Still, the investor-owned utilities have been outpaced by some of their municipal utility counterparts in ramping up the use of green energy. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, for example, are on track to reach a self-imposed 20% target by the end of 2010, according to environmental experts and utility executives.
"The [investor-owned] utilities have done a great job signing contracts, but they've done a terrible job signing contracts that get built," said Gregg Morris, the Berkeley-based director of renewable energy research at the Green Power Institute. "The system has not worked."
The playing field is littered with stymied projects. Regulators rejected an application in 2008 from Pacific Gas & Electric and Finavera Renewables Inc. to develop a 2-megawatt wave-power project off the coast of Humboldt County. Engineering holdups have slowed San Diego Gas & Electric's 49-megawatt Mt. Signal Solar project in the Imperial Valley, which was supposed to be operational in 2008. It's much the same for some wind and biomass projects in Santa Barbara and San Diego counties.
Transmission remains a thorny issue. Giant power towers and high-voltage lines are often opposed by citizen groups. Permitting can take years. Just three of 11 segments planned for Southern California Edison's $2.1-billion Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project have been completed. San Diego Gas & Electric is wading through reviews and approvals for its $1.8-billion Sunrise Powerlink effort.