Public Utilities Exhibit Shades of Green

By Published On: August 3, 2012

California’s 10 largest publicly owned utilities made strides in adding renewable resources to their portfolios but overall success in reaching the 20 percent goal varied significantly, according to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Four municipal public utilities--including the two largest--were ahead of the curve when it came to meeting the state’s renewable portfolio standard of 20 percent by 2010. Three munis were within striking distance of the goal. The other trio lagged far behind, according to the study. The study looks at how investments munis made during the first phase of the Renewables Portfolio Standard program, “running from 2003 to 2010, drove the development of renewable energy resources, since that’s one of the primary purposes of the RPS,” said co-author, senior energy analyst Laura Wisland. Publicly owned utilities meet about 25 percent of California’s electricity needs. Unlike investor-owned utilities, municipal utilities were initially encouraged--but not required--to meet California’s original 20 percent renewables mandate. The Renewables Portfolio Standard at first required investor-owned utilities to generate 20 percent of their electricity through cleaner energy sources, like wind and solar power, by 2010. The deadline for Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric was later extended by two years. A new law raised the renewables standard to 33 percent by 2020 for both private and public utilities. According to the study, hitting, and/or surpassing, the 2010 target are the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power with 20 percent renewables, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District at 21 percent, Silicon Valley Power with 25.7 percent of its portfolio, and the Turlock Irrigation District at 21.3 percent. Nearing the 20 percent alternative energy threshold are Riverside Public Utilities at 18.4 percent, the Modesto Irrigation District at 17.8 percent, and Roseville Electric at 17.5 percent. At the back of the line are Anaheim Public Utilities receiving 10.8 percent of its retail sales from renewables, the Imperial Irrigation District getting 8.3 percent, and Burbank Water & Power at 7 percent. One of the reasons Burbank performed poorer than the other municipal utilities, according to the scientists’ group, is that some planned projects fell through. “Burbank actually had signed up more than enough contracts to reach 20 percent by 2010,” Wisland said. “Basically, a lot of the projects they tried to invest in never came to fruition.” Things have changed significantly for the utility since 2010, according to Burbank Water & Power spokesperson Janette Meyer. She said that the 7 percent figure the study quoted for her utility--the lowest percentage on the list--is possibly based on old or incorrect data. Meyer said that Burbank’s renewable portfolio now is over 20 percent. “We’re on track. Our plan is by 2020, we’ll have 33 percent in our portfolio coming from renewable energy.” According to data on the city’s website, Burbank exceeded 10 percent renewables during its 2010-11 fiscal year, ending June 30, 2011. The percentage was up significantly from the 0.3 percent renewables the utility generated in fiscal year 2005-06. The scientists’ group suggests that publicly owned utilities acquire more than the minimum amount of electricity required to meet the renewable energy requirement, in order to create a cushion in case some projects are delayed or fall through. “Utilities that sign long-term contracts for new projects or own them outright are most effective at spurring development of new sources of clean energy,” Wisland said.

Share this story

Not a member yet?

Subscribe Now