Shades of green

The state’s renewable portfolio standard: tilting at windmills?

The state’s renewable portfolio standard: tilting at windmills?

Photo Courtesy Of SMUD

It’s beginning to look like we just might make it. Maybe Auntie Ruth is seeing the world through green-tinted lenses, but California appears to be on its way to meeting its own ambitious goals for producing electricity with renewable-energy sources. The state’s renewable portfolio standard requires contracted investor-owned utilities to produce 20 percent of their electricity with renewable sources by 2010 and 33 percent by 2020. According to a California Public Utilities Commission report released last week, 500 megawatts (.5 gigawatts) of new renewable generation was added to the state’s electrical mix in 2008, four times the amount of any previous year since the program began in 2003. The CPUC declared that “2008 was a turning point for the RPS program.” It’s going be close, but we just might hit that 2010 target of 20 percent.

Of course, your Ruthness would be remiss not to mention that the CPUC has its own pair of emerald-shaded specs. In 2007, the state’s investor-owned utilities—including the three largest IOUs, PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric—generated 28,463 gigawatt hours of electricity using renewable sources, according to the California Energy Commission. Those sources include biomass, geothermal, small hydro, solar and wind, and accounted for just 13.5 percent of the 209,856 gigawatt hours generated in 2007.

So how does the CPUC get to 20 percent by 2010? It includes short-bid contracts and expired contracts in its projections. If all the currently listed short-bid contracts for renewable projects actually come online and all the expiring renewable contracts are renewed, the IOUs will cross the 20 percent threshold mandated by the RPS in 2011. As the commission notes in its latest report, the short-bid contracts and expiring contracts represent “the greatest area of uncertainty.” Publicly owned SMUD is already ahead of the RPS game; 20 percent of its power mix already comes from renewable sources. Nevertheless, significant challenges remain for both Sacramento and the state’s energy supply, including an unhealthy reliance on rapidly depleting natural gas. Maybe those emerald shades aren’t such a bad idea, after all.