Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stronger Renewable Energy Goals For California

Yesterday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order calling on the state to streamline its renewable energy process, ideally making it easier to produce and sell renewable power. He also is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding among resources-protection agencies, prompting more sustainable siting of clean-energy plants.

The governor’s action comes at a critical time for the state of California. Most experts agree that clean energy will provide new “green jobs” to lift the Golden State’s economy, while reducing the pollution that causes global warming. Still, groups and individuals who want to protect our state’s wilderness resources worry that these same facilities could hurt animals, plants and wilderness areas in their path.

“Everyone agrees that generating more renewable power will energize our economy and reduce pollution, but we can’t ignore the impacts to wilderness in our quest to generate more clean energy in California,” said Jim Metropulos, Senior Advocate, Sierra Club California. “Sierra Club California hopes that involving agencies like the Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that protect these resources will lead to a better understanding of how we can build a clean-energy future that doesn’t hurt our precious ecosystem in the process.”

Sierra Club California has long called on lawmakers and the Schwarzenegger Administration to increase the standard to at least 33 percent by 2020. This summer, the California Air Resources Board joined that call, asserting that raising the standard would reduce the pollution that causes global warming.

Simply raising the required amount of renewable power generated by utilities won’t accomplish everything, Metropulos said. Sierra Club California urges additional reforms to ensure the continued success of a renewable energy program.

First, our state currently ties the price of clean energy to its future projected price of natural gas, known as the market price referent, which the state consistently underestimates. This forces would-be clean energy projects to compete against an artificially low fossil-fuel-based standard – an archaic, unsustainable practice that California must reverse.

In designing a new approach to renewable energy, the Schwarzenegger Administration and the California Legislature would do well to look to programs that already work. In Germany, a program known as “feed-in tariffs” sets up fixed prices for renewable energy, rewarding investors leery of our “boom or bust” system. Meanwhile, throughout California, communities are scrambling to get into “community choice aggregation,” pooling their buying power to get more bang for the buck.

As they move to expand renewable power generation in the state, state lawmakers and regulators always must keep in mind whether renewable sources of energy are equally sustainable in terms of environmental impacts or energy supply. For example, outdated methods of drawing on geothermal energy involve essentially poking holes in the ground and allowing the underground steam to escape into the atmosphere. This process releases both greenhouses gases as well as toxic materials.

“California has the power to retake the lead in developing new sources of clean, renewable power, as long as Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Legislature fix flaws in current renewable power standard law,” said Metropulos. “Adopting a truly sustainable standard that protects wild places while fully empowering clean-energy projects represents the best pathway to a clean-energy future.”

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