California Passes Strong Renewables Standard

SACRAMENTO, California, September 16, 2002 (ENS) - California has passed a bill establishing a statewide renewable energy portfolio, and requiring electricity retailers to increase their use of renewable resources by at least one percent per year. By 2017, retailers must produce at least 20 percent of their retail electricity sales from renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy.


California's Altamont Pass wind plant produces enough electricity to power the residential sector of a city the size of San Francisco. (Photo by Ed Linton, courtesy National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL))
The renewables bill (SB 1078), drafted by Democratic state Senator Byron Sher, establishes the California Renewables Portfolio Standard for California. California officials said the 20 percent renewable requirement, which will nearly double the state's existing base of wind, geothermal, biomass and solar resources, will be the strongest renewable portfolio in the nation.

Governor Gray Davis signed the legislation late last week along with a host of other environmental bills, saying they will help protect California's environment and quality of life.

"My administration has worked hard to provide a healthy future for California," Davis said. "These bills will build upon our state's rich tradition of environmental stewardship, protecting the energy we use, looking toward new energy resources and planning how we dispose of our hazardous waste."


The world's largest solar power facility covers more than 1,000 acres near Kramer Junction, California. The facility can produce up to 150 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 150,000 homes. (Photo courtesy Kramer Junction Company/NREL)
The renewable portfolio standards will help to decrease the state's current dependence on natural gas fired power, the governor said. Renewable power sources also produce fewer air pollutants and lower greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuel based power sources, Davis noted, helping to balance the higher economic costs of many renewable power sources.

At least two of the major utilities serving California customers - Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison - already come close to the requirements of the new law, producing 12 to 15 percent of the electricity they sell from renewable sources. But smaller utilities, which rely more heavily on traditional power sources, may have trouble meeting the 2017 deadline for the 20 percent renewable portfolio.

Davis also signed a companion bill by Senator Sher that reauthorizes state programs that promote renewable energy use and alternative energy research. SB 1038 authorizes the state Energy Commission to continue to administer the Public Interest Energy Research Program and the Renewable Energy Program for five additional years.

The bill also allows state energy regulators to set a benchmark for renewable energy prices, based on long term market forecasts. If renewable power prices rise above this benchmark, utilities may be able to use state subsidy funds to cover the difference between the benchmark and the actual prices.


With a 750 megawatt output from 14 units, The Geysers in Calistoga, California, is the largest producer of geothermal power in the world. (Photo by David Parsons, courtesy NREL)
The subsidy funds come from an extra monthly charge on residential and commercial electricity bills, which were imposed in 1998 to provide funds for energy conservation efforts, renewable energy and energy assistance for poor families. The subsidies costs about $2 per month for the average residential customer, according to the Energy Commission.

Other bills signed by Governor Davis aim to protect California's environment from oil spills and hazardous wastes. The Oil Transfer and Transportation Emission and Risk Reduction Act (AB 2083) requires that companies which transport crude oil and petroleum products by tanker, between the San Francisco Bay area and the Los Angeles area, report specific oil and transportation information on a form to be developed by the State Lands Commission.

Collection of data regarding the shipment of California oil along the state's coast is considered crucial to determining the environmental impacts of the transportation, and to help prevent future spills.

SB 849 increases fees per barrel for vessels that transport crude oil in order to prevent oil spills. The new law increases the maximum oil spill prevention and administration fee from $0.04 to $0.05 per barrel of crude oil in 2003, and authorizes the Department of Fish and Game to charge non-tank vessels a fee for certifying financial responsibility for an oil spill.


The 21 megawatt Tracy Biomass Plant uses wood residues from agricultural and industrial operations to provide renewable power to the San Francisco Bay Area. (Photo by Andrew Carlin, courtesy Tracy Operators/NREL)
The bill also requires the Department of Fish and Game to contract with the Department of Finance to prepare a report on the effectiveness of the state's oil spill prevention, response and preparedness programs.

Another bill signed by Davis is considered the final chapter on a proposed low level radioactive waste dump in Ward Valley, California. The dump site was proposed by a previous administration, and abandoned in 2000 due to environmental concerns, though lawsuits over the site continue.

The bill (AB 2214) prohibits the proposed Ward Valley radioactive waste disposal site from serving as the state's facility for purposes of the Southwestern Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact. Under that compact, California is required to build a disposal site for low level radioactive waste from commercial and research reactors, medical facilities and laboratories, produced in California, Arizona, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Ward Valley

Protests by California cancer patients helped end plans to build a low level radioactive waste dump in Ward Valley. (Photo courtesy Greenaction)
So far, California has failed to agree on a suitable site for a permanent waste repository, and low level radioactive wastes produced in the state are shipped to disposal sites in Utah and South Carolina. AB 2214 prohibits the Department of Health Services (DHS) from issuing or renewing a license for the disposal of low level radioactive waste unless the siting, design, construction, operation and closure of the facility meets specified federal and state requirements.

AB 2214 also prohibits a facility from disposing of low level radioactive waste using shallow land burial. The proposed Ward Valley project would have buried wastes in shallow, unlined trenches, which critics said could put groundwater supplies at risk of radioactive contamination.