The California Public Utilities Commission announced last week energy efficiency goals for 2012 through 2020, estimating that the targets will save 4,500 megawatts of electricity generation, equivalent to the output of nine major power plants.
The targets set by the Commission will be updated in 2010, with the current interim goals going to the California Air Resources Board as part of implementation of California’s “Global Solutions Act” climate change legislation (AB 32).
PUC president Michael Peevey said in a prepared statement:
“Energy efficiency is the state’s preferred way to meet our growing energy needs, as outlined in our Energy Action Plan. California has one of the most aggressive energy efficiency plans in the nation and today’s decision improves those efforts to reflect a coordinated and comprehensive approach toward energy efficiency in order to maximize saving in the coming years.”
Energy Contracts Approved, But Renewable Deadlines Dubious
The three major California utilities were also given approval for clean energy contracts needed to help ensure they meet the state’s ambitious renewable portfolio standard mandating 20% of electricity generation by 2010 – a goal that a report released by the PUC on Friday states that PG&E, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison will likely not meet.
Principal among the warnings in the report are concerns that Congress remains unable to renew tax credits for renewable energy development beyond the end of 2008. A prime example of the failure in Congress to get much beyond their partisan bickering in their effort to grapple with energy policy. The tax credits are an essential element in moving the energy economy toward ongoing large-scale renewable projects.
Ralph Cavanagh, director of the Natural Resource Defense Council’s energy program sharply criticized Congress’ failure to act:
“The criminally irresponsible failure of Congress to execute these extensions that have broad bipartisan support is jeopardizing the industry’s capacity to deliver and hit its cost targets.”
The report also says that a significant investment is needed to upgrade the state’s electrical grid, along with a much greater degree of planning and coordination among state agencies to deal with energy and climate change issues.
Meeting the goals proposed by Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger are feasible, says the report, but they won’t be cheap or easy, requiring as much as a $60 billion investment to hit the target of one-third of electricity generated come from renewable sources by 2020.
“Serving 33 percent of California’s electricity needs with renewable sources will require an infrastructure build-out on a scale and a timeline perhaps unparalleled in the world”, warns the report.
Moving Toward the Goal More Important Than Hitting the Deadline
These warnings bring neither concern or surprise to many environmentalists. Carl Zichella of the Sierra Club in California says that, while it is incumbent upon Congress to extend the renewable energy tax credits, we shouldn’t be “beating ourselves up too much” if California doesn’t precisely hit its targets;
“…It’s like this: We’re building the car while we drive it, and we’re trying to drive it very fast”.
The PUC itself takes the same positive outlook, viewing the report as an account of the challenges inherent in taking a leadership role in expanding renewable energy.
PUC spokesman Andy Schwartz said,
“The program is demonstrating that California has created a really vibrant market for renewable energy,” he said. “There’s a tendency to view the 2010 deadline as a litmus test for how well the program’s working. … It’s important to set goals. But in our view, it’s far more important that we keep our eye on the ball, which is reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.”
This, in my humble opinion, is the right attitude. If the cost of rolling out renewable energy is high and the challenges significant, the cost and consequence of continuing in earnest our “addiction on oil” is far greater.
Or, we could drill for more oil offshore and in ANWR and call it a “solution”.
John Kennedy’s words from over 45 years ago are applicable today:
“We choose to… not because [it is] easy, but because [it is] hard, because that goal will serve to measure and organize the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”