CA Gov. Brown Expected to Sign Bill for 33% Clean Power

JerryBrownGreenNet1

On Tuesday afternoon, California Governor Jerry Brown is widely expected to sign a bill into law which says utilities in the state need to produce 33 percent of their electricity from clean sources by the end of 2020. The move is not unexpected, and the bill has been floating around the governor’s office since before former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill back in October 2009.

Brown is expected to sign the bill this afternoon at a solar manufacturing plant for SunPower and Flextronics in Milpitas, Calif. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu is expected to be in attendance at the event.

Utilities in California already had to source 20 percent of their electricity from clean power by 2010, and that “Renewable Portfolio Standard,” is what has been driving utilities like PG&E and SCE to make deals with solar power providers like BrightSource Energy, and First Solar. California’s utilities have struggled to meet that deadline, but have been getting close through contracts (not deployments).

As Mark Griffith managing director at Black & Veatch, put it in an interview with me last year, “utilities are making the effort,” but projects can take a long time to build, particularly getting the transmission lines built. Bumping that figure up to 33 percent by 2020 will likely similarly be a moving target, and utilities will struggle to come close to it.

For cleantech investors in California, the 33 percent RPS is crucial and adds much-needed certainty to the state’s clean power market. It “keeps utilities open for business,” explained CalCEF President Dan Adler to me in an interview, and “is the end game,” for the utility-scale clean power market to mature. CalCEF has backed a variety of clean power companies through its fund, including BrightSource Energy.

If the 33 percent RPS wasn’t signed into law, “it would be a big blow,” and we wouldn’t see any new utility-scale clean power projects, said Adler, though, he expects the bill to be official by this afternoon. Now we just need to get the projects that utilities have already made deals with — like BrightSource’s inaugural solar thermal plant in the Mojave Desert of Calif. — up and running.

Image of Jerry Brown speaking at Green:Net 2010. To buy tickets to Green:Net 2011, click here.

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