News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Report: Public-Owned Utilities Need Improvement on Renewables

Geothermal plant near the Salton Sea. The nearby Imperial Irrigation District performed below-par in meeting its 2010 renewables targets | Photo courtesy Union of Concerned Scientists

California's ten largest publicly owned utilities have made significant renewable energy gains, according to a new report, but some have a lot of work to do to meet the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard requirement.

The report, "The Clean Energy Race: How Do California's Public Utilities Measure Up?" published today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), charts the improvement in renewable energy made by the ten utilities from 2003 to 2010.

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Publicly owned utilities (POUs) are owned either by a municipal or similar government, or by a cooperative of customers. They differ in this way from Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs), owned by their stockholders. California's largest POU -- and the largest in the U.S. as well -- is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), serving four million residents.

California's original Renewable Portfolio Standard law, enacted in 2002, required IOUs to derive 20 percent of their electrical power from renewables by 2010. POUs were "encouraged" to meet the same target, but not required to do so. Taken as a whole, the state's 10 largest POUs came close to meeting that mark, with renewables providing 18.8% of their power.

Some of the ten POUs did better than others, however. Silicon Valley Power (SVP), the Turlock Irrigation District (TID), and the Modesto Irrigation District (MID) performed best at meeting their RPS targets in the context of planning for the long term. SVP and TID derived more than 20% of their power from renewables in 2010, while MID came in at 17.8%. MID's figure was lower than that of LADWP and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), but MID acquired its renewable energy almost entirely from new, long-term contracts, which the UCS describes as "the most direct way to promote development of new renewables."

LADWP and SMUD met or exceeded their 20% targets in 2010, but less than 9% of their power came from new long-term contracts. UCS thus described the two utilities' performance, as well as those of Riverside Public Utilities and Anaheim Public Utilities, as "On the right track, but must keep moving."

The worst-performers of the state's top 10 POUs were Burbank Water and Power, Roseville Electric, and Imperial Irrigation District. Roseville Electric met almost two thirds of its renewables target with short-term contracts of four years or less in length. Imperial Irrigation District's renewables portfolio accounted for just 8.3% of its power, and Burbank Water and Power -- the smallest POU studied -- came in at 7%. Burbank and Imperial have both embarked on aggressive RPS strategies. Imperial County is an epicenter of utility-scale renewables development and -- barring further market reverses for utility-scale renewables -- will likely do much better by 2020, when utilities will be aiming for a 33% RPS goal.

California POU energy investments (click for full-sized version) | Infographic courtesy Union of Concerned Scientists

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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