Public Utilities Commission Approves Utilities' Renewable Energy Plans

PG&E demonstrates solar panels at the Marin County Fair | Photo: Inhabitat/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The California Public Utilities Commission today (CPUC) approved the renewable energy procurement plans for the state's largest utilities, a necessary milestone in the companies' goal of meeting their renewable energy obligations under California law. After filing final procurement plans with the CPUC, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) can now begin soliciting bids to fulfill their renewable energy requirements under the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) law.

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Under the state's "RPS Procurement" procedure, the utilities can now issue requests for offers from producers of renewably sourced electricity. Utilities choose winning bids based on lowest cost and "best fit," then the CPUC and an independent evaluator will review the bids selected by each utility. The CPUC then signs off (or not) on contracts between the bidders and the utilities.

As part of today's decision, the CPUC will allow SCE to try to meet its 2012 RPS goals without engaging in an RPS solicitation process for the year. Instead, SCE will attempt to meet its goals by buying power from medium-scale renewable facilities under 20 megawatts in size -- potentially including some distributed generation projects.

The CPUC refused requests from a couple of industry groups to modify the state's RPS policy. The firm SolarReserve requested that the Commission strike its requirement that RPS sources of energy be connected to the California Independent System Operator's (CaISO) grid. This isn't a surprising request from SoarReserve, which is building a large concentrating solar power tower facility 80 miles from the California state line northeast of Tonopah, Nevada. And the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT), a renewable energy non-profit advocacy group, suggested that allowing SCE to focus on smaller scale renewable suppliers constituted a "carve-out" of RPS capacity devoted to a particular technology, which the CPUC officially frowns on. From CEERT comments filed with the CPUC:

What is called for here, as addressed further below, is to ensure that every RPS-obligated utility, especially SCE, be required to hold a 2012 RPS solicitation and that those solicitations and, more importantly, the "least cost, best fit" evaluations of bids, take into account the individual attributes and value of the renewable resource being bid to meet near and longer term resource needs. Reliance on "smaller-scale renewable" procurement mechanisms alone, as suggested by SCE and permitted by the Proposed Decision to meet "any unmet RPS need" is likely to yield only one technology type (solar photovoltaic (PV)), rather than result in a diversity of renewable resources and attributes necessary to address grid reliability and LCR needs.

The CPUC chose not to go with SolarReserve or CEERT's suggestions.

Also today, the CPUC approved spending $2 billion in 2013-2014 on energy efficiency programs in the state targeted across the range of the California economy, from private consumers to business and local government. Lara Ettenson of the Natural Resources Defense Council has more details at her blog on NRDC.org. All in all, a busy day for the Commission charged with keeping our power bills as affordable as possible.

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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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