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California Senate votes for stronger renewable energy mandate

March 31, 2009 |  4:12 pm

Solar farm

The state Senate voted today to require private utilities to get 33% of their energy from renewable sources such as solar and wind power by the year 2020, despite complaints from many lawmakers that it will cost ratepayers $1.8 billion more annually.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said the bill, which now goes to the Assembly, would help pave the way to a more environmental friendly future.

"The green economy is the economy of the future," Steinberg said. "The environment and the economy go together."

However, Sen. John Benoit (R-Palm Desert) said the mandate will not only hurt residents who are already having trouble paying their bills, but will also drive manufacturing firms out of the state.

"We are going to make ourselves the greenest Third World economy in the world," Benoit said.

Currently, investor-owned utilities including Southern California Edison, face a requirement that 20% of the energy they sell come from renewable sources by next year.

Less than a year after California voters rejected a ballot measure to increase the mandate to 50% by 2025, Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) has authored SB 14, which would require 33% by 2020. The standard mirrors the level set in an executive order issued by the governor in November.

"We ought to be doing this because it’s going to clean up the air," Simitian said during a more than hour-long debate. "We ought to be doing this because it will address climate change."

The vote was 21-16 with the Republicans joined by Sen. Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) in opposing the measure.

"I'm concerned that this bill is moving too fast without sufficient scrutiny," Wright told his colleagues. "If you require energy companies to purchase something they don’t really need you increase cost."

-- Patrick McGreevy

Photo: An array of mirrors concentrates sunlight at an eSolar test facility in Antelope Valley. Credit: Handout/eSolar

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