A Golden Future for the Renewable State

While Congress stalls on America’s clean energy future, California is already making renewable energy the resource with which we’ll power our way to the future. Just last month, the California Legislature passed the 33 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard with broad bipartisan majorities. This legislation increases the share of renewable energy supplied by electricity providers to 33 percent by 2020. California lawmakers who supported the bill were no doubt listening carefully to their constituents who resoundingly defeated Proposition 23 last November, sending a strong signal that they want to move forward with a clean energy future now.   

A national poll from Pike Research shows that support for renewable energy sources is extremely high with 75 percent or more people having a favorable view of solar and wind energy. And a recent California survey also found that over 90 percent of Californians approve of wind and solar energy as sources of electricity for the state.  

It’s not surprising that there is broad support for renewables in California and a growing consensus for clean energy in the rest of the country. With more than 12,000 cleantech companies in California, clean energy programs including the 33 percent RPS will create thousands jobs over the coming years and spur billions of dollars of investments in infrastructure projects, contributing to the state’s economic recovery.  

The first RPS bill approved in California in 2002 established that electric utility generators had to obtain at least 20 percent of power from renewable resources by 2017. Many predicted that California would fail to meet this goal. Opponents of the legislation said it was too expensive and difficult and couldn't be done. But the good news is that California will achieve the 20 percent goal four years ahead of that schedule.

Under Senator Joe Simitian’s 33 percent RPS bill, electricity providers are required to obtain one-third of their electricity from renewable resources, including solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, and small hydroelectric plants. And we’re well on our way to meeting the 33 percent goal. The California Independent System Operator has already approved enough transmission to get us to 33 percent. Utilities PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas&Electric have signed power purchase agreements for more than 20,000 MW to reach that goal. And last year, the California Energy Commission approved almost 4,200 MW of new solar thermal capacity in the state.

Senator Simitian’s legislation also includes provisions to ensure that utilities make steady progress by procuring a balanced portfolio of renewable resources and minimizing any cost impacts to utility customers. As a result of the RPS program, renewable energy generation in California in 2020 will be roughly equal to total current U.S. renewable generation, and supply enough clean energy to power nearly 9 million homes.

We congratulate Governor Brown and all involved for signing the 33 percent RPS into law this week. With the stroke of a pen, he added his support to this significant collaborative bipartisan effort. The RPS demonstrates the commitment by California lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to build a diverse and resilient energy portfolio that minimizes impacts of fossil fuel price spikes and enhances our energy independence. By signing the RPS legislation into law, Governor Brown will lead the Golden State forward to a prosperous, renewable energy future.

This essay was published on the California Progress Report on 4/18/11.