Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Renewable Energy bill moves forward

California takes the first step in reforming the state’s renewable portfolio standards law.

On Tuesday March 3, 2009, the Senate’s Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee passed Senate Bill 14 by Senator Joe Simitian. If enacted, SB 14 would increase the required amount of renewable energy sources in California’s portfolio to 33 percent by 2020 and make other necessary reforms to our state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) law.

Current law requires the state to obtain 20 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2010. However, the California Public Utilities Commission reports that in 2007 only 12 percent of the state’s electricity came from renewable resources such as geothermal, solar and wind. The Commission and other interested parties agree that the state’s three investor owned utilities – PG&E, Southern California Edison and SDG&E – will not meet the 2010 deadline and won’t be in compliance with the law until 2013.

Sierra Club California believes that the RPS law needs to upgrade both the targets and the rules under which it operates. Other states have adopted RPS laws and made significant strides in building renewable energy. In 2007 Texas reached a total installed wind capacity of over 5000 megawatts. In that same year California only built about 60 megawatts of wind turbines, a dismal performance. California once led the world in renewable energy and we need to regain our leadership.

Sierra Club California supports many of the proposed reforms to the RPS law under SB 14, including: the adoption of an enforceable minimum 33% RPS for both investor-owned utilities and publicly owned utilities; improvements to the market price structure and program goals for renewables; and implementation of more democratic accountability at the Public Utilities Commission. This is one of our top bills of the year and will be following it closely as it proceeds through the California Legislature.

SB 14 was voted out of the committee with the bare minimum of 6 aye votes. Committee members voting for SB 14, were Senators Padilla, Corbett, Kehoe, Lowenthal, Simitian and Wiggens. Voting against the bill or not voting were Senators Benoit, Calderon, Cox, Strickland, and Wright. It was disappointing to see Senator Strickland voting against the bill since he is one of the bill’s co-authors and had campaigned in last November’s election as a promoter of clean renewable energy. The bill now moves to the Senate Appropriations committee.