Percentage of Coal Imports Questioned

By Published On: October 6, 2006

Legislation requiring that power from long-term contracts meet strict emissions standards was signed into law September 29. In addition to attempting to cut imports of coal and other polluting power supplies, SB 1368 by Senate president pro tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) attempts to get a firm estimate of the amount of California’s imported coal power. Quickly responding to the newly signed bill, the California Public Utilities Commission opened a proceeding to determine how to implement SB 1368. Regulators aim to create a “common set of rules for all players,” noted commission president Mike Peevey October 5. According to the new law, the CPUC, along with the California Energy Commission and the Air Resources Board, must establish a greenhouse gas emissions standard by February 2007. Until this bill was passed, the CPUC had authority only over emissions from investor-owned utilities. Now its authority is expanded to “all electrical corporations, community choice aggregators, and electric service providers.” While the legislation is largely seen as targeting coal-fueled electricity, commissioner John Bohn stated that regulators should “have no bias against any fuel.” He added, “Our focus should be on reducing overall emissions rather than a source by source examination.” Until recently, the California Energy Commission estimated that about 30 percent of the state’s electricity comes from coal-fired projects. That number is now being questioned. During an October 3 conference on electricity and air emissions, Matthew Layton, CEC project manager, said that the percentage of coal power the state consumes could be as low as 8 percent or as high as 30 percent. Much of the estimate difficulty, he added, is attributed to the challenge of tracing imported electrons – which may come from a mix of unspecified resources – to the original source. A catch of the new law is that the emissions standards will apply only to contracts for five years or longer. “We may see a lot of contracts for 59 months,” warned Layton. Coal-fired plants emit twice as much carbon dioxide as a natural gas-fired plant. More than 30 coal-fired plants are on the drawing boards in the West, “many aiming to sell their power to California,” warned the Natural Resources Defense Council September 29. Other bills enacted include the following: SB 1250, by Perata, reauthorizes funding for the Energy Commission’s renewables and Public Interest Energy Research programs through 2012. SB 1505, by Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), requires the California Air Resources Board to enact rules by January 2008 that ensure that hydrogen used in the transportation sector – including that produced from renewable supplies – actually helps curb greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. AB 1632, by Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo), mandates the Energy Commission to study both the impacts of the federal government’s failure to build a long-term radioactive waste dump and the vulnerability of the state’s nukes to earthquakes. AB 2021, by chair of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), aims to garner 30,000 GWh of energy savings over the next decade from private and public utilities. AB 2573, by Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), increases the amount of solar generation permitted by the city and county of San Francisco. AB 2723, by Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), mandates that $300,000 from the regulatory California Solar Initiative (Million Solar Roofs) funds be spent on low-income housing developments. – Elizabeth McCarthy & J.A. Savage

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