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State's sprint to wind, solar power could trigger crisis, panel warns

December 3, 2012 |  6:00 am

As state officials scramble to transition California’s power grid toward more renewable energy, consumers are threatened with being saddled with billions of dollars of unnecessary costs due to poor planning and lack of oversight, a government watchdog concluded in a report released Monday morning.

The Little Hoover Commission, a nonpartisan oversight agency, warns in its report that the state is in danger of making missteps on the scale it did leading up to the electricity crisis during the administration of former Gov. Gray Davis, which resulted in electricity rates skyrocketing. 

The report comes after The Times published several stories this year examining how the state’s renewable energy policies are being implemented in ways costly to consumers  and the environment.

At issue in the report is California’s race to produce a third of its electricity from wind, solar and other renewable sources by 2020, as is required by state law. California has more ambitious renewable energy goals than any other state.

The commission says that while the goals are laudable, the lack of an overarching plan for meeting them in the most efficient and integrated way possible exposes ratepayers and state government to considerable risk. In the frenzy to make its deadline for renewables, the report notes, consumers may have been locked into decades-long contracts with energy producers “at unnecessarily high prices.”

“This sets the stage for a potential ratepayer revolt,” the report said. 

The commission urges Gov. Jerry Brown to take action “to assess how much, in the aggregate, recent major policies related to energy will affect electricity rates and reliability and whether these policies are achieving California’s goals.”

The report also takes aim at the environmental damage being caused by the boom in industrial-scale renewable energy plants, many of which are being built on ecologically sensitive desert properties.

“Without more careful calibration of these policies, Californians may wind up paying more than necessary for electricity and the state may unnecessarily degrade pristine habitat in its rush to implement renewable energy goals,” said a statement from Commission Chairman Daniel Hancock.


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-- Evan Halper in Sacramento

Photo: Mirrors are positioned at BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station in California's Ivanpah Valley in August. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times