The growth in renewable supplies\u2013home grown and imported--is making the state\u2019s regulatory gas-based benchmark price irrelevant. As renewable competition increases, use of what is known as the Market Price Referent has dropped, Julie Fitch, California Public Utilities Commission energy division director, said Feb. 1. The referent was established several years ago as a measure of the reasonableness of the offered price of a renewable deal. Fitch told the Senate Energy Utilities & Communication Committee the benchmark was becoming obsolete largely because natural gas prices upon which the CPUC sets the referent are volatile. Also, the price of solar, wind, biomass and other alternative supplies are measured against similar renewables--i.e., one wind deal compared against another wind project--competing for utility contracts. Marc Ulrich, Southern California Edison vice president of renewable energy, added that the bureaucratic referent is a poor benchmark because it does not reflect more timely market prices. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), committee chair, asked for specifics on the prices of utility-approved renewable contracts. \u201cTo formulate the best policy we need to know as much as we can about costs,\u201d he said. Fitch only provided general numbers because prices under the terms of third-party CPUC-approved utility deals are confidential. Price estimates from 2007 found about a \u201c7 percent difference\u201d in fossil and alterative supplies. Fitch added that electricity prices are \u201calways increasing\u201d and consumers are reaping the benefit of dropping renewable prices. According to utility representatives, alternative energy supplies are between 10-15 cents a kWh. Part of the cost of renewable resources also depends on how much fossil-fired backup power is considered necessary to balance out intermittent solar and wind energy. Senator Rod Wright (D-Los Angeles) warned that using inefficient gas-fired plants for backup power to ensure grid reliability wipes out the greenhouse gas benefits of renewable resources. One-fifth of investor-owned utility customer demand is expected to be supplied by renewable resources within the next year. Although the 20 percent mandate set for 2010 was missed, Fitch said, \u201cIt\u2019s largely a good news story.\u201d Public utilities, which are not regulated by the CPUC, also are making strides in the renewable portfolios, with some meeting or exceeding the 20 percent mark, muni representatives told the committee. Los Angeles Department of Water and Power\u2019s resources include 20 percent alternative energy supplies. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District\u2019s resources are 24 percent renewables. The Northern California Power Agency members are above the 20 percent alternative power threshold, with several munis said to exceed the 33 percent target. In 2010, renewables supplied 18 percent of investor-owned utilities\u2019 portfolio overall\u2014with Southern California Edison with the highest level and San Diego Gas & Electric the lowest of the three private utilities, according to the CPUC. In 2009, renewable energy represented 15.4 percent of the state\u2019s investor-owned utility electricity load. Edison had the largest amount of renewables, at 17.4 percent. Pacific Gas & Electric\u2019s portfolio was 14.4 percent renewables and SDG&E\u2019s 10.5 percent. About 68 percent of the three utilities\u2019 renewable resources are expected to be from in-state projects, with that number expected to rise. The amount of smaller renewable projects that feed into the existing distribution lines also is expected to increase, according to utility representatives. Geothermal provides the largest amount of renewable supplies for private munis, followed by wind, biomass, small hydro, solar, and biogas. For munis, the renewable mix is predominantly geothermal resources, with wind and small hydro much of the remainder, according to the CPUC.