RENEWABLE ENERGY:

Schwarzenegger asks Calif. regulators to delay 33% RPS

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has quietly asked state regulators to delay final action on a 33 percent renewable portfolio standard to give legislators in Sacramento more time to pass a bill that would give the mandate more teeth as standing law.

The Republican sent a letter last week to Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board (ARB), requesting that the agency postpone a scheduled vote this month until its September board meeting. The agency had been expected to consider the RPS rule before July 31.

Schwarzenegger signed an executive order last September that directed the agency to draft and vote out a 33 percent regulation after he vetoed a bill that he said would unfairly exclude out-of-state renewable energy. He also took issue with the bill's apparent failure to expedite wind, solar and geothermal projects through a bureaucratic process at the California Energy Commission and U.S. Bureau of Land Management that many view as cumbersome.

"In light ... of ongoing discussions with legislative leaders to develop a bill that I can sign, I am requesting that the Air Resources Board postpone consideration of the proposal," the governor wrote in the letter to Nichols.

The 33 percent standard by 2020 builds on the 20 percent RPS by 2010 currently on the books in California. The new RPS under the executive order would expand the mandate from investor-owned utilities to include public power and shift jurisdiction to ARB from the state Public Utilities Commission.

A bill that attempts to win the governor's support has been circulating in the state Legislature and passed through a key committee last month in the Assembly (ClimateWire, June 25). Supporters say they have rewritten the measure this year to account for last year's veto and hope the governor will climb aboard.

Laura Wisland, an energy expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said environmental groups have tried to write in more flexibility this year to help ease electricity imports into the RPS system. The new bill attempts to define three types of RPS transactions, including: those directly interconnected to the California grid; renewable energy sold through swaps in other states before reaching California; and renewable energy credits, in which a purchased certificate represents electricity generated by renewable sources in another state.

But Schwarzenegger isn't convinced. In a statement issued following the committee vote, he signaled support for the direction the bill had taken but demanded that any RPS legislation do more to streamline renewable energy projects through extensive red tape.

Hundreds of renewable energy projects in California are already in the pipeline, but some have become snagged behind an overlapping permitting system that involves a number of state and federal agencies. Schwarzenegger and others, including the Democratic candidate for governor, Attorney General Jerry Brown, have pledged to update the process to bring power plants online faster.

The private utilities subject to the 2010 mandate -- Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric -- are not expected to have enough renewable power online to make the deadline. More likely is that they reach the 20 percent threshold by about 2013, through a recent report from the Public Utilities Commission predicted the investor-owned utilities would get there by the end of 2011 (Greenwire, June 23).

Sullivan is based in San Francisco.

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