California Dreaming

September 9th

Those of us who have spent our lives in the Boston-Washington corridor had learned to look to California for coming trends. At least this was true until the recent budget crises began to throw into question whether California itself was a sustainable venture.

But a report by the (CPUC) certainly reestablishes the state’s claim to offering insights about the future, even if it doesn’t yet nail the case. The CPUC announces that it has approved contracts for 8,300 Megawatts of power to be generated by renewable energy sources. And there is more in the pipeline.

Most of California electric generation’s renewable energy today comes from wind, but in the future solar is expected to surpass wind as a green energy source. Solar thermal and solar photovoltaic sources are playing a larger role in recent bids on power generation.

In 2002 California passed a law requiring Renewable Portfolio Standards for the state’s utilities. The RPS law requires that they get 20% of their power from renewable sources by 2010 and by 2013 it has to be up and running on the grid.

What makes the CPUC’s report huge is that it shows that the utilities are on track to meet the standards.

The Governor upped the ante last November by requiring that the RPS be 33% by 2020. And this is where the debate is today – can 33% be achieved? Can the utilities afford the $115 billion to do it? Can the state meet both its environmental and energy goals? Will the infrastructure be there to make it possible?

All of these questions are important, realistic questions. But when the debate is whether 33% is achievable now that 20% appears to be in hand, this is no longer a dreamy kind of a conversation. RPS will play a large role in the coming Climate Change debate. California now tends to make it seem as though RPS is shifting gears from a philosophical debate to an energy policy and engineering one.

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