Take three for 33 by 2020

Backers of clean power hope third time’s the charm for legislation to increase renewable-energy mix

State Sen. Joe Simitian is again introducing rules that require 33 percent of utilities’ energy mix to come from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, by 2020.

Simitian’s proposal was once vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009. A similar measure died on the Senate floor earlier this year. Both times, the governor objected to provisions that would limit the amount of renewable energy utilities could purchase from out of state.

Schwarzenegger did, however, issue an executive order requiring the higher energy standards, without the restrictions on out-of-state generation.

But executive orders don’t have the permanence of state statute—his successor could have nixed it—and the governor’s order left a lot of uncertainty about whether utilities would actually have to go ahead with the new requirements.

State law already requires large investor-owned utilities such as PG&E and San Diego Gas and Electric to meet renewable-energy target of 20 percent by the end of this year. No one expects this to happen, though, and the state has given the IOUs a three-year extension to meet the green-energy goals.

However, thanks to a surge of new renewable-energy contracts, the big utilities are expected to catch up to the renewable-energy requirements sometime next year.

By comparison, SMUD, a not-for-profit public-power agency, has been ahead of its for-profit rivals, even though state law currently does not require public utilities to meet any particular green-power goals.

According to SMUD’s Mike DeAngelis, Sacramento’s renewable energy mix for 2010 will be about 24 percent. In 2003, SMUD used just 3 or 4 percent renewable electricity. “And we’re well on our way to making 33 percent by 2020,” DeAngelis told SN&R.

That’s a good a thing, because Simitian’s bill would subject public-power agencies to the same rules as the for-profit companies.

Observers say the public-power agencies bristled at the idea of being told what to do. And DeAngelis told SN&R that SMUD objected last to Simitian’s previous bill because it prohibited “carryover” of green-energy credits from year to year. In other words, if a utility is 1 or 2 percent over its green-energy goal one year, SMUD feels it ought to be allowed to apply that the next years goal.

“Otherwise, there’s going to be a big hit to ratepayers,” says DeAngelis.

The new bill will also likely renew disagreements about where green energy is created. Groups such as the Sierra Club are worried that importing power from far-away states won’t really green California’s energy mix.

“We’re concerned that there ought to be green electrons flowing in California,” said the Sierra Club’s Jim Metropulos.