California Sets Pace In Renewable Energy Development
By Greg McDonald, Senior Writer
California has invested heavily and consistently in energy conservation programs and the development of wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, hydro and other forms of alternative power generation - even in the face of its electricity debacle.
The state's efforts have helped turn what was once a fledgling idea into a full-blown industry that has created thousands of jobs, pushed the development of new technology and delivered "green power" to homes and businesses at increasingly competitive prices. It has also helped give many home and business owners the option of setting up their own power generating systems, enabling them to cut their utility bills or go "off grid" entirely.
California's efforts have been so successful that renewable fuels account today for approximately 12 percent of the electricity generated in the state. If hydroelectric power is counted as well, the figure jumps to 32 percent. No other state even comes close, even though Nevada, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Texas and other states are trying to open up more of their electricity markets to renewables.
"California's (renewable energy share of the market) is the highest figure in the United States and, perhaps, the world. When you get a state that tries like California, it shows that you can do it." says David Goldstein, an energy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council..
Under the Kyoto accord, which the Bush administration pulled out of earlier this year, the United States and other major developed industrial nations would have been required to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
President George W. Bush said the agreement, which would have been more lenient on developing nations, could cripple the United States economically.
While state efforts to spur development of renewable energy sources lag behind those of California, nearly all offer some kind of support through small tax incentives or small loan programs. But only 16 states have initiated a public benefits program, which uses a share of utility bills to fund energy conservation and renewable technology development programs.
Only 12 states have imposed renewable portfolio standards (RPS) or other legal obligations on power producers requiring them to draw on renewable energy sources for a certain percentage of their electricity generating capacity. The 12 states identified by DOE are Arizona, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.
While the details vary from state to state, the two most aggressive RPS programs, in Massachusetts and Nevada - would require that only 5-to-11 percent of generated power come from renewables by 2009. Nevada, however, hopes to get up to 20 percent of its power from renewables, by 2015.
"I think we're still pretty far away from mainstreaming these renewable technologies and we're still a long way - because of government regulatory obstacles - from having consumers just buy a system off the shelf. Some renewables have matured to the point where they are just on the cusp of being economically viable. But our national system is still built around the big power plant industry," notes Blair Swezey, a principal policy advisor for DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.