A measure that would require utilities to receive one-third of their power from renewable energy sources
by 2020 passed off the Senate floor Tuesday with the bare
minimum of 21 votes.
The bill, SB 14 by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-San Jose, has been tagged as a top priority for Senate
leader Darrel Steinberg. The bill’s passage was the first major policy decision in which
Steinberg muscled a proposal out of his house, despite
reservations from many within his own party.
When Steinberg took the leadership gavel in December,
he noted three top legislative priorities that could
give the Legislature “a sense of momentum:" expanding health coverage to all California children,
agreeing on a water bond, and expanding the renewable
energy requirements for utilities. The health care
ambitions have been tempered by the state’s budget crisis, and a water deal remains elusive,
Steinberg said Tuesday.
Steinberg acknowledged Tuesday that the renewable plan
was far from finished. But, he said, it was the Legislature’s best hope at passing an early, significant policy
“It’s more cooked than water,” Steinberg said of the energy plan. “There will be plenty of room to address people’s concerns, but it’s time to show a little sense of urgency,” he said.
But not all Democrats felt it was a good idea to send an unfinished bill onto the Assembly. Sen. Rod
Wright, D-Los Angeles, gave an impassioned speech against the
bill, and said he was not moved by promises to amend
the bill later in the process. “I only vote for what I can see,” Wright said.
Outside of the state budget, Simitian’s bill has emerged as the first major legislative fight
of 2009. The bill has created fluid political coalitions that
have, at time, pitted environmental groups against
each other, and have raised concerns about rate-payer protections and increasing energy costs.
Under current law, utilities are required to produce
20 percent of their power from renewable resources -- including wind, geothermal and solar power --
by 2010. But many utilities are struggling to meet that 2010 deadline. Currently, about 12 percent of California’s energy comes from renewable sources.
Opponents say the new requirements will drive up the
cost of electricity, and put utilities in danger. “My concern is that we are going to make ourselves the
greenest Third World economy in the world,” said Sen. John Benoit, R-Riverside.
During the floor debate Tuesday, many Senators who
voted for the bill noted it was a work in progress.
Among them was Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, who said, “it does seem a little early in the session for bills
to be moving to the other house.” Ducheny wound up voting in favor of the bill.
Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, who held two marathon hearings on the
bill earlier this year, outlined a host of outstanding
issues that have yet to be resolved among stakeholders,
and with the Assembly. Among the most controversial
elements of the bill is a discussion of the renewable
energy credits, known as RECs. These credits would
work in a fashion similar to carbon credits under the
state’s greenhouse gas emissions program.
The credits would allow utilities to buy their way
out of some of the renewable energy requirements by
purchasing energy credits from other green-energy providers. Simitian’s measure does not allow for any such credits. But
the Assembly’s major renewable bill, AB 64 by Assemblyman Paul Krekorian, D-Glendale, allows utilities to purchase credits for
up to half of their new requirements.
The battle over expansion of renewable energy requirements
was sparked by Gov. Schwarzenegger last year. In November,
Schwarzenegger signed an executive order requiring
utilities to meet the new, rigorous standard. That
spurred Steinberg to move quickly with Simitian’s legislation.
But Republicans demanded Steinberg draw the breaks
on the legislation. “This bill’s not cooked,” said Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks. “It doesn’t cost anything for us to (wait to) get it right.”
But Steinberg pressed on. “There’s nothing wrong with taking the lead and showing some
leadership on an issue,” Steinberg said. “Let’s make this an early victory for this Legislature and