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California renewable energy gets major boost in new law

April 12, 2011 |  1:18 pm

Solar

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Tuesday a mandate that 33% of electricity in California must come from renewable sources by 2020.

Executives at solar, wind and other clean energy companies said the new regulations could help California reclaim its green leadership position after losing ground to states such as Texas and Iowa.

“This is tremendous,” said Mike Hall, chief executive of solar installer Borrego Solar. “A legislative solution provides a lot more clarity and firepower for regulators and proponents.”

Brown, along with U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, signed the bill while helping dedicate a new solar panel manufacturing plant in Milpitas. The facility will produce 75 megawatts a year of panels from SunPower Corp. and is expected to create 100 jobs.

The new law, known as a renewable portfolio standard, is the most aggressive of any state. Several attempts to introduce a federal version have stalled in a divided and preoccupied Congress.

California had previously required investor-owned utilities such as Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric to generate 20% of their electricity from clean sources by 2010, with a three-year grace period.

The law signed Tuesday will also apply to municipal utilities such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which manage about a quarter of the state’s electricity load.

Energy activists hope the mandate will lead to even more ambitious requirements.

“California can power itself entirely on clean energy resources,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate with Environment California. “Mandating that the state generate a third of its electricity from renewable energy is a big down payment toward that ultimate goal.”

Executives said they were also looking forward to long-term stability. Government incentives lasting just one or two years at a time have characterized the renewable energy market, causing boom-bust cycles when they expire.

“The RPS requirements allow utilities to plan to meet higher renewable energy standards and orient the market towards meeting those goals,” said Russ Kanjorski, a vice president at Abound Solar.

The new mandate also requires utilities to draw some of their power from small local projects based near customers –- known as distributed generation. Often situated on rooftops and parking lots, such installations don’t require the long transmission lines necessary for sprawling wind and solar plants in the deserts and mountains.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry said she will introduce legislation this week to launch a pilot program that would put 75 megawatts of solar on rooftops around the city.

Los Angeles could place 300 megawatts on apartment rooftops –- enough to power 30,000 homes --  within the next decade, according to a study Tuesday from the Los Angeles Business Council, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, USC and UCLA. Many panels could be situated in economically disadvantaged areas.

RELATED:

California Senate votes for stronger renewable energy mandate

Obama's clean-energy goals have industry questioning feasibility

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Solar panels at PG&E's Vaca-Dixon solar energy site near Vacaville, Calif. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

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