California bill would raise renewable energy target to 51% by 2030

Source: Debra Kahn, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, June 10, 2013

California lawmakers are considering a major boost in the state’s renewable energy targets.

State Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez (D) on Wednesday added language to a bill that would require the state’s utilities to get 51 percent of their electricity from renewable energy by 2030. The current target is 33 percent by 2020, which utilities are on their way to meeting (ClimateWire, Jan. 15).

Pérez, who represents parts of Imperial and Riverside counties in Southern California that have seen significant large-scale solar development, cited the replacement or retirement of Southern California power plants as an impetus for the bill.

“I believe that A.B. 177 establishes the right framework to get this important conversation going,” he said, “and I look forward to working with our policy committees in the summer and fall to further refine this proposal.”

The bill, slated for hearings this summer and fall and a vote in 2014, would require investor-owned or publicly owned electric utilities to come up with procurement strategies to reach 51 percent renewables by 2030. It would also codify two existing state policies: an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 and a “loading order” for utilities to follow when buying more electricity, which requires them to first seek energy efficiency reductions and then renewable energy before resorting to fossil fuels.

State regulators have talked about the need to go further but have generally stopped at 40 percent. California Energy Commission Chairman Robert Weisenmiller told The Wall Street Journal last week that the state could even reach 40 percent by 2020 based on existing renewables contracts that utilities have signed.

The state’s primary grid operator didn’t have much to say about the proposal. “The ISO does not have a position on the bill,” said California Independent System Operator spokesman Steven Greenlee. “We are in the process of reviewing the amendments to A.B. 177.”

Utility sees a learning curve ahead

A spokeswoman for the state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., said the company is still figuring out how to manage the influx of sometimes-unpredictable wind and solar power.

“We really believe we have a lot to learn still about how to operate the grid with these increasing intermittent renewable resources,” said PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo. “We are making strides in understanding how we’re going to manage these challenges, but we really feel like we want to stay focused on the curent goal at this point.” She added that renewables have so far cost ratepayers about 1 to 2 percent extra per year above normal inflation.

An environmentalist gave the bill early praise. “It’s great to send a very strong signal that we can and need to increase the RPS, and the other thing about this is it’s going to make it very clear that the former RPS is a floor, not a ceiling,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. “Those two things alone should help motivate the utilities and the energy producers to continue looking for ways of expanding and transitioning to more renewable energy.”

She added that she hoped the bill would be structured to encourage generation close to load centers, like rooftop solar. “The utilities are based on, ‘We want to do things large-scale, everything, whatever it is,’ and the reality is that you need a mix,” she said.