Can California Meet Renewable Energy Goal with a Mandate?

Just before the California legislative season ended in mid-September, lawmakers passed two bills that would require 33 percent of California’s energy to be generated from renewable resources by 2020—a more aggressive goal than what the three-year old AB32 (California’s Global Warming Solutions Act) had set and the most aggressive renewable energy requirement in the nation.

But Governor Schwarzenegger says he won’t sign the bills, calling them overly complex, unfair to solar power generators, and a recipe for higher energy costs. But the governor did issue, last week, an executive order that sets the same end-goal—33 percent of all energy consumed coming from renewable sources by 2020–while changing the terms by which that power will be sourced.So if the goals are the same, who cares? Plenty of people, including Laura Wisland, clean energy analyst with the environmental advocacy group the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Without the power of law behind it, the mandate is very weak. A new governor might come in after Schwarzenegger who is not a big a proponent of reducing greenhouse gasses” and reverse the mandate, too. (And given the rhetoric that Meg Whitman has been sending around lately, this seems a real threat. )

Opponents of the bills, who include The Independent Energy Producers Association and Southern California Edison, argued that by requiring that nearly all of the 33 percent of energy to come from California energy producers, the bill would stifle competition and drive up costs. (According to the Associated Press, the Independent Energy Producers represents companies that provide 80 percent of California’s renewable energy.)

Proponents said the requirements would help boost California’s green economy and produce more in-state jobs. Wisland says that the bills had struck a balance between “being as open-market as possible and also trying to build the California energy market.”

But during a press conference last week, Schwarzenegger called the requirement to source the energy from within the state a form of protectionism. And he made assurances that his mandate would carry the same weight as a law would have, and that he has ordered the California Air Resources Board—the same entity that is charged with implementing AB32 (the Global Warming Solutions Act)—is tasked with implementing the mandate. And he said the board will get it done quickly and without being hung up on the types of permitting processes that the bills would have required.

He also stressed that taking the route of an executive order was the only way he could get the processes in place to start moving a third of our energy generation away from non-renewables within the 10-year time-frame.

Still, the Wisland thinks that the failure to the pass the aggressive emissions-reduction legislation will ultimately make it harder for the state to reach its goals—adding that without a tougher law behind them, energy producers might have trouble getting the financing they need to boost renewable energy production for the state.

What’s your take? Does the executive order stand a chance of reaching the same goals as a law?

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to

2 responses

  1. But what about energy efficiency being first in the loading order???
    How do we measure savings from the efficiency of new dual pane windows, SEER 19 HVAC up-grade and attic insulation. Energy efficiency is more important than generating electricity with PV technologies.

    Dan Perkins

Leave a Reply