A 33 percent renewable energy mandate for California by 2020 would not only provide environmental benefits, but help the economy, according to senators backing SB 14. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) and Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) gave the proposed effort to increase non-fossil electricity its first public airing February 10 at a packed Capitol hearing. The ambitious legislation aims to improve air quality, grid reliability, power diversity and security, and create jobs while protecting ratepayers, said Padilla, the new chair of the Senate Utilities & Commerce Committee. \u201cWe want to send a clear signal to the market so that money and talent are invested here in California,\u201d Simitian added. A vote on the bill was put off this week to allow for agreement on the wording of amendments. The measure is expected to pass. Previous efforts to grow the current renewables standard portfolio from 20 percent by 2010 to 33 percent by 2020 failed. (The portfolio requires investor-owned utilities to deliver the designated percentage of power from non-fossil resources, such as solar, wind, and geothermal.) Last year\u2019s SB 411 by Simitian, which called for a one-third renewable mandate, was held by the Assembly at the end of the session. Late last year Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger got on the bandwagon with his own call for a 33 percent renewable energy standard. The legislative leadership agreed to enact a bill within the first 100 days of the session. Critics warn that the higher standard puts renewable energy developers in the driver\u2019s seat and will cause power bills to increase more. \u201cIt\u2019s a seller\u2019s market,\u201d said Stuart Hemphill, Southern California Edison vice president renewable power. Renewable projects, however, have been dropping like flies because access to financing has shriveled. SB 14 seeks to ease renewable power\u2019s access to the grid. Wind and solar power do not feed the grid round the clock because they are largely weather dependent, and thus intermittent or non-continuous power sources. The grid operators have struggled with scheduling these power supplies. \u201cWe want to remove the adjective \u2018intermittent\u2019 from energy discussions,\u201d Padilla said. Other key issues for making a 33 percent renewables portfolio a reality include how much out-of-state alternative power investor-owned and public utilities, as well as energy service providers, can import and under what conditions (see story below). Utilities, generators, and some environmentalists support importing renewable resources. The state imports hydroelectricity, coal, and other energy resources. However, some generators and environmentalists want the out-of-state power limited. Vigorously debated was the chosen \u201ccop on the beat\u201d and level of penalties for failing to comply with the renewable energy mandate. The California Air Resources Board, which is responsible for enforcing the state\u2019s greenhouse gas reduction law, is to set penalties with the California Public Utilities Commission and Energy Commission. Under the current renewables portfolio law, investor-owned utilities are required to grow their alternative power portfolio by one percent a year, but are given a three-year grace period by the CPUC. No penalties have been imposed under current law. The new bill would continue to allow utilities and other energy providers to make up any annual renewable shortfall within a three-year period. There was also a call for allowing utilities to pay fees to support renewable energy development in lieu of actually meeting the annual targets. Publicly owned utility representatives, such as municipal power agencies, support raising the renewables portfolio standard from 20 to 33 percent. However, the Northern California Power Association objected to the California Energy Commission being authorized to impose penalties on munis, asserting that non-compliance should be addressed at the local level. Private utilities pushed to have the munis regulated by the Energy Commission and subjected to agency enforcement and penalties, insisting that would create an even playing field. The usual adversaries both urged lifting the cap from 30 MW to 50 MW on qualifying hydropower resources under the state renewables portfolio standard. The complex bill is packed with other provisions as well, including ones aimed at limiting the authority of the CPUC president and commission. SB 14 also would: -Eliminate the \u201cmarket price referent.\u201d That price sets a benchmark against which renewable projects are compared for cost effectiveness. -Do away with the rate freeze placed on ratepayers whose energy use falls within 130 percent of a set baseline. Customers instead would have their rates based on an index tied to inflation. -Prohibit mandatory time-of-use rates.