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Schwarzenegger orders boost in renewable energy

He vows to veto two bills that would restrict California utilities' purchase of green power produced out of state, instead issuing his own order upping the minimum to one-third by 2020.

September 16, 2009|Marc Lifsher

SACRAMENTO — The state's electric utilities will be required to get at least a third of their power from wind, solar and other renewable resources by 2020, under an executive order signed Tuesday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"With this action, we will ensure that California remains the pioneer in clean energy and clean jobs," the governor said in issuing the order.

But his call for California to set the nation's toughest renewable energy standard didn't generate much enthusiasm from Democratic lawmakers and environmentalist activists, who have labored for the last nine months to pass a pair of bills that they contended would boost the development of new "green" industries in the Golden State.

Schwarzenegger said Tuesday that he would veto the Democratic bills, which were backed by some but not all of the state's utilities.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Sempra Energy supported the bills, while Southern California Edison Co. and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District asked the governor for vetoes. The bills also drew support from labor unions and consumer advocates and opposition from manufacturers and independent energy-generating companies.

The two sides did not disagree about the need or the practicality of setting an ambitious 33% renewable energy target. Indeed, they concur that increasing consumption of renewable fuels would improve air quality, combat global warming and lessen dependence on foreign oil.

Instead, the conflict was over what California should do to reach the goal and the cost of making it happen.

Schwarzenegger contended that the bills, approved early Saturday in the last hours of the legislative session and marked for vetoes, would unfairly discriminate against alternative power produced in other Western states.

The legislation also would make it difficult, he argued, for electric utilities to get all the renewable power they need, when they want it.

Opponents also said the bills would make electricity too expensive for residential, commercial and industrial ratepayers.

The governor objected particularly to a provision that would limit utilities from using credits purchased from out-of-state wind and solar projects to cover more than 30% of their renewable obligations.

The proposed limit, labor unions and ratepayer advocates insist, is needed to ensure that the bulk of renewable projects are built and operated in California, providing high-paying jobs.

Instead of signing the bills into law, the governor -- for the second time in less than a year -- hosted a media event at a Sacramento solar power facility to issue an executive order.

Tuesday's decree ordered state pollution regulators to begin the complex process of drafting rules to more than triple the state's reliance on alternative power over the next decade.

Executives from non-utility energy companies surrounded the governor at the sun-baked signing ceremony. Environmental advocates, who had been invited to attend, opted to stay away.

The proposed regulations are legally authorized under AB 32, California's landmark 2006 global warming law, said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board. The regulations should be ready by the middle of next summer if sufficient staff and funding are available, she said.

In the meantime, Democrats have raised questions about whether the rules would have the same binding legal effect as a law approved by the Legislature.

"An executive order does not have force of law," said Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), the author of SB 14, one of the two renewable energy bills marked for veto. An executive order and regulations could be challenged in court or overturned by Schwarzenegger's successor, Simitian added.

Current law requires investor-owned utilities such as Edison to produce 20% of their power from wind, solar and geothermal energy by 2010, a target they are expected to miss.

Environmentalists, who had hailed passage of the Simitian bill and the related measure, AB 64 by Assemblyman Paul Krekorian (D-Burbank), urged Schwarzenegger to reconsider his veto plans. But even if that doesn't happen, they pledged to work with the governor to make sure the goal of 33% renewable energy is reached.

"Ultimately," said Bernadette Del Chiaro of the advocacy group Environment California, "California's leaders will have to work together to accomplish this goal to help solve global warming and put America on a path to a clean-energy future."

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marc.lifsher@latimes.com

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