California's 33% RPS Plan for a Clean Energy Future

Peak Shifting with Solar Energy at SCE

As expected the California Legislature approved a bill formally enacting the 33% renewable portfolio standard into law.  Governor Jerry Brown will sign the measure. Little else changes since the 33% RPS goal was set by Executive Order by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  There is widespread public support for California clean energy policies.

But the 33% RPS target is just one part of the California broad clean energy and environmental strategy.  Assessing the prudence and potential of California’s strategy requires consideration all the component parts:

AB32- California Global Warming Solutions Act seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Recently a state Superior Court judge found California Air Resources Board failed to follow the state’s environmental quality act (CEQA) and sent CARB’s implementation plan back to review the  options before it can move forward with implementation—a delay but not a fatal blow to the law.

State Water Resources Control Board Once-Through Cooling Water Rule adopted in May 2010 requires 19 existing Northern California power plants to replace their once thru systems with closed loop systems by 2015.  Los Angeles area plants have until 2020 to comply.  This action affects all of California’s nuclear power plants. There are some potentially profound consequences of this rule.

  1. Force Out Baseload Generation and Large Generation Units near Load Centers. It could make many of the existing baseload generation units in California uneconomic if the costs of replacing the once trough cooling system with close loop systems proves too much.  This would be bad for ratepayers who have already paid to build these plants most of which especially the nuclear plants operate very cost effectively and generation near load centers has been an important factor in grid reliability and stability.  A big push for those million solar roofs might help but given the relative cost and pace of installation we’ve seen to date, it won’t be enough since the total of all of the solar rooftop systems installed to date is 812 MW less than one nuclear unit.
  2. Less Nuclear but More Natural Gas Combined Cycle Replacement. The second impact is that if the rule forces many of these 19 existing power plants including the nuclear plants to close prematurely they almost certainly will be replaced with natural gas combined cycle plants to provide the back-up power needed for all the intermittent renewable energy being built.
  3. PHEV Scalability Requires Off Peak Generation. It seems unlikely that all that baseload and load following power generation could be replace so quickly with distributed generation from renewable energy and assure grid stability.  PHEV market share growth as envisioned to help reduce emissions in the transport sector is expected to increase demand for off-peak energy for battery recharge.  California could perversely become much more dependent upon out of state power generation from fossil fuels elsewhere in the WECC power grid if many of these existing 19 plants are forced out.  Recharging PHEVs with fossil fuel plants will not reduce emissions.

Renewable Portfolio Standards originally set at 20% by 2010 now are 33% by 2020 as the Governor’s executive order is enacted into law.  The 20% RPS targets have been met.  That is a problem because achieving the AB32 goals of emissions reduction requires that California’s energy portfolio must churn more to incorporate much more renewable energy and force out more fossil fuel resources to reduce emissions.  The 33% RPS standard creates churn and makes a market for the clean technologies California wants.

Energy Efficiency Standards adopted in the 1970s and recently updated to cover flat screen TVs and new technology are a true winner.  The result of these energy efficiency codes has been o reduce California’s energy intensity to 50% of the national average.  A spectacular success and $ 1 billion Investment in energy conservation programs funded through utility rates and administered by the State and utilities has embedded energy efficiency into the daily lives of most Californians.

Smart Grid and Smart Meters requirements have facilitated $5 billion in investment in Smart Meters paid for by approximately $203 million of the $3.4 billion in US DOE smart meter grants to California utilities.  Ratepayers will cover the rest of the costs and the big three investor owned utilities are on a path to complete initial deployment by 2012.  Like every new technology rapidly deployed there are problems and smart meters have provoked backlashes from customers who, to date, see few benefits and a lot of hassle.  California regulators have pushed back implementation of peak day pricing for commercial and industrial customers in response to complaints, but the success of smart metering requires dynamic pricing to give customers a clear price signal to encourage conservation and demand response.  Despite the Bakersfield Effect of customer complaints during smart meter deployment the worst for smart metering transition may still be ahead as pricing plans and rate structures change.

California Solar Initiative began with a million solar roofs goal set by Governor Schwarzenegger. The program now has 79,128 solar projects totaling 812 MW of solar energy at an average cost of $8.47 as of March 23, 2011. But prices for solar photovoltaic panels are dropping and new financing strategies including no money down leases are speeding adoption.

So what?

California’s strategy for its clean energy future is just as bold and just as challenging as it has always been.  There is a vision in the Golden State that some see as inspiring and others call delusional.

California voters doubled down on their clean energy future in the last election when they could have declared victory at 20% RPS and stopped AB32 with Proposition 23.  They didn’t and while the California strategy is not cheap and parts may still not work as expected, California is going to lead the way into the clean energy future like it or not.

The question is whether Californians will vote with their feet and move to Texas, Arizona or elsewhere where the air is just as clean and it costs a lot less to live and do business.


1 Comment

  1. Change to Gravity Control for generating energy at the lowest cost.
    No fuel needed , no water needed. Structures at a fraction of the cost of a Nuclear Reactor.
    Can be buit anywhere and of any size, depending of the amount of power needed.
    Power at 1 cent per Kilowatt or less.
    The technology is derived from the Flying Saucer which I discovered and patented.
    Offered to Nasa, so that iit could be incorportated into the Shuttles, which then would reach the ISS in one hour or the Moon in a couple of hours, it was rejected as it would make the Rocket Industry obsolete.
    So, now I can offer it for power generation, world wide.
    E.g. A weight of one thousand tonnes, can be lifted 1000 feet wit a very small amount ofpower, usisng the technology.
    When that comes down, it ca be used to generate thousands of kilowatts.

    Th Gravity Control Units, which would do the lifting, will be LEASED, to give investors and the Tax man their due.

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