Mixing it up

Call it the “dash for gas.” In the rush to build new natural gas power plants, state lawmakers have focused almost exclusively on fossil fuels while mostly ignoring the possibilities of sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives ("Blacking Out Green Power,” SN&R, July 5).

Critics say the approach will be bad for the environment in the long run, bad for the public’s health and will ultimately leave California consumers vulnerable to the same price spikes that are at the root of the state’s current energy mess.

Now, a new report by the California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG) urges the state to double its supply of energy created from renewable, non-polluting sources over the next decade. Currently, the state gets about 10 percent of its power from renewable sources.

Clean power advocates say that could easily be increased to 20 percent or 25 percent if lawmakers follow a four-point strategy on pursuing renewables: enter into long-term contracts with renewable energy generators; reform the tax structure that favors fossil fuel plants; streamline the siting process for wind, solar and geothermal outfits, just as it was recently made easier for natural gas plants; and subsidize more research and development into renewable energy technologies.

The Department of Water Resources has mostly shunned contracts with renewable generators since it began buying power on the utilities’ behalf. That needs to change if the state is to wean itself from natural gas. Although cleaner than coal and diesel generators, gas is still a major source of toxic emissions and subject to severe price spikes.

“The state is at a crossroads. Right now, 98 percent of our new energy needs will be met with natural gas. That is a recipe for disaster,” said Ted Clutter, director of the Geothermal Resources Council, who spoke in the Capitol last week on behalf of the CalPIRG report.

The report bolsters the effort of state Senator Byron Sher, whose Senate Bill 531 would set a 20 percent floor for renewable energy sources that must be included in the state’s power mix by 2010. The bill, called the California Renewables Portfolio Standard Program, is currently stuck in a Senate committee and not likely to be taken up again until January.