California Utilities Exceed Renewable Power Goals

At a time when there’s plenty of disheartening news about the environment, yesterday’s report that California is continuing to make rapid progress toward its goals for clean, renewable power generation is reason to cheer.

The California Public Utilities Commission’s progress report shows that the state’s three largest private electric utilities – Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric – have met the Renewables Portfolio Standard goal of 20% of renewable energy from 2011-2013– and are on track to surpass that milestone this year en route to achieving the mandated one-third share by 2020.

In fact, according to the CPUC, these utilities have over 3,000 megawatts of new renewable energy capacity set to come on line this year. That’s staggering when you consider the total is more than all the renewable energy added since 2003 from solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and small hydroelectric plants.

The RPS (established by Senate Bill 1X 2), one of the world’s most ambitious renewable energy programs, requires that 33% of California’s electricity sales be from renewable sources by 2020, which will be enough clean energy to power nearly 9 million homes. The RPS legislation passed last year also set the 20% intermediate target for 2011-2013 and increases it to 25% for 2014-2016.

According to the CPUC’s first/second quarter 2012 renewable energy progress report to the Legislature this week, the three major investor-owned utilities in 2011 experienced the greatest year-to-year increase in renewable power generation since the beginning of the state’s renewable energy program – collectively serving 20.6% of their load with clean sources compared to 17% in 2010. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Pacific Gas and Electric Company, 20.1% of retail sales;
  • Southern California Edison, 21.1%; and
  • San Diego Gas & Electric, 20.8%

This follows a CPUC report earlier this year on the RPS that the market for renewable electricity is robust and competitive. This week’s announcement said that in the first half of 2012, the investor-owned utilities filed 16 new contracts for 347 MW of renewable capacity while the CPUC also approved 48 contracts representing 2,450 MW of renewable capacity -- including 34 contracts for projects 20 MW or smaller.

Clearly, California is continuing to lead the way toward a clean energy economy and meeting its goals in order to create great benefits for all Californians in the form of price stability and energy security. There is no question that a diverse, clean and resilient energy portfolio can minimize the impact of fossil fuel price hikes and enhance our energy independence.

This progress on renewables also will play a major role in California’s legislative mandate to cut its greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by the year 2020 under AB32, the Global Warming Solutions Act. And just last week the Departments of Interior and Energy announced a national plan for solar energy generation on public lands in California and five other western states that will help accelerate our state’s and nation’s renewable energy generation. 

As we celebrate the immense RPS progress to date, we might take a moment to recall the doubts surrounding the Legislature’s 2002 passage of the first RPS bill when many predicted California’s electric utility generators would never be able to reach the goal of obtaining at least 20% of power from renewable resources by 2017.

Doubters of the RPS said it was too expensive and couldn’t be done. And yet, this week we learned that the three largest private utilities met – and surpassed -- the 20 percent goal six years ahead of that schedule.  Who knows what predictions will be defied next on our way to creating a clean energy economy for California?