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Time to end fight over renewables

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sacramento Bee

Senate Democrats and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration are embroiled in an improbable fight over renewable energy. They need to resolve it fast, for the sake of the state’s environment and economy.

The battle has its roots in California’s energy crisis of a decade ago. In one of the more significant measures to emerge from the debacle, then-Sen. Byron Sher pushed legislation in 2002 requiring that California’s privately owned utilities rely on the sun, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources for 20 percent of the state’s energy usage by this year.

The legislation made sense, given that energy merchants had been manipulating the supply of natural gas that fires most California power plants, and gouging utilities and, by extension, consumers.

By turning to renewable energy sources, Californians would gain more control over the electric system while also reducing carbon emissions.

Utilities have been racing toward the goal. Southern California Edison is closest. Pacific Gas ad Electric Co. is second. San Diego Gas and Electric Co. is lagging.

In too many instances, the utilities have turned to energy producers outside California for renewable energy. Out-of-state facilities provide no tax benefits or jobs to California. That makes no sense. Californians are expected to pay for renewable energy. As much of that money as possible ought to remain in California.

This issue is especially relevant as voters prepare to decide Proposition 23, the initiative on the November ballot that would suspend the separate mandate that California reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is also more urgent now that Senate Democrats in Washington, D.C., have dropped energy legislation that had contained provisions to reduce greenhouse gases and increase renewable energy requirements.

The jostling on renewables became mind-boggling last year when Schwarzenegger, the governor who champions the environment, vetoed legislation that might have resolved the dispute. Now, Sen. Joe Simitian, a Silicon Valley Democrat who replaced Sher, is pushing a new version of the measure, Senate Bill 722.

Like last year’s measure, SB 722 would increase the mandate that utilities rely on renewable sources for 33 percent of the energy by 2020. That is laudable. Importantly, the bill also urges that 75 percent of the renewable energy come from within California.

On that point, the administration is balking, as are lobbyists for manufacturing industries. There are questions of cost and doubts about whether the state could meet the goal. To meet it, the state may need to streamline permitting requirements and help resolve fights between environmentalists and energy providers on appropriate sites for new wind, solar and geothermal plants.

But there is no reason to bypass California entrepreneurs for energy producers from Montana and other states. California has its own sources of renewable power.

Approval of SB 722 would be a step toward energy independence, and a significant accomplishment for the governor who has tied his legacy to California’s environment. In the process, he and lawmakers would be helping to provide high-paying jobs in an area where they have said they want to direct the economy.

View the full story (Sacramento Bee)