On Tuesday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law requiring 33 percent of California’s energy to be derived from renewable sources, including windmills and solar panels, by 2020. The law marks a 13 percent raise from the state’s current law, which mandates that California consumes 20 percent alternative energy by 2010, a goal the state has yet to meet.
The new law, signed within just four months of Brown’s inauguration, has been a long time coming for the California governor, who is no stranger to tough environmental regulations. During Brown’s first term as California’s governor in the 1970s, he was criticized for pushing for renewable energy amid a society preoccupied with oil drilling.
All public and private utilities must meet the 33 percent goal in a three-phase program. The existing 20 percent goal has been pushed back to the end of 2013, then companies ideally must sell 25 percent renewable power by the end of 2016, and finally draw 33 percent of their energy from renewable sources by the end of 2020. In response to concerns regarding the cost of renewable energy and the high cost of electricity in California, the California Public Utilities Commission plans to place caps on how much utility companies can spend on renewable energy. Prices for solar energy are expected to decline as its demand, popularity, and production increases, and the US Department of Energy expects solar energy prices to compete with other energy prices by 2020.
Brown signed the law in a solar-paneled factory owned by San Jose-based SunPower Corp. in Milpitas, Calif., where he spoke to a large crowd about the bill’s goal to not only increase air quality and bring thousands of new jobs to California, but also to revive and stimulate existing industries. “There are people who think we can drill our way to happiness and prosperity,” the governor said. “Instead of just taking oil from thousands of miles away, we’re taking the sun and converting it.”
The new law has given green energy companies, including SunPower, hope and the confidence to build wind farms and invest in renewable power plants. SunPower expects to build a 250 megawatt solar power plant in San Luis Obispo County, powering 60,000 homes and creating 100 jobs, with $1.2 billion federally-funded dollars. US Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu dedicated the funds to SunPower at the signing on April 12. The Department of Energy has also dedicated 1.6 billion dollars to Oakland-based BrightSource Energy Inc. so that the company can build a large solar power plant in the Mojave Desert, a project that would power 85,000 homes and employ 1,000 people.
The mandate, referred to as a renewable portfolio standard, also requires that utility companies source some of their renewable energy from local plants near customers, with energy panels installed on rooftops. Federal, state, and private investments in alternative energy in California could push the state back to its former position as the country’s leader in green technology and energy. Texas, home of the United States’ largest wind farm, currently leads the country in green energy production.
The law is one of the most aggressive and ambitious renewable energy initiatives in the country. Officials hope that the law will push and enable large investors to meet the short-term 20 percent goal. So far, the closest any company has come is Southern California Edison, which sources 19.4 percent renewable energy. San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility provider, sells 17.7 percent renewable energy.
The new law will take effect in roughly three months. In his signing letter to the state legislature, Gov. Brown stated that he wants to see California reach even higher renewable energy goals, saying that “With the amount of renewable resources coming on-line, and prices dropping, I think 40%, at reasonable cost, is well within our grasp in the near future.”
Photo credit: dfg.ca.gov/habcon/energy