California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an executive order (EO) last week that requires utilities to derive 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. It is one of the strongest renewable portfolio standards (RPS) in the nation, coming from our undisputed leader in clean energy generation. You’d think the RE industry, organizations and activists would be rolling out the red carpet for Sir Arnold. But in a somewhat strange twist, the “Governator” has instead reaped controversy from members of his own Congress and many in California’s renewable energy industry.
SB 14 vs. EO-21-09
Earlier this month, the California legislature succeeded in passing a bill, SB 14, that amended the state’s RPS to require 33 percent renewable electricity by 2020. Governor Schwarzenegger then vetoed that bill and instead signed EO-21-09, which amended the state’s RPS to require 33 percent renewable electricity by 2020. Makes a lot of sense right?
Photo Credit: ShockYa
Well, there are some key differences between SB 14 and EO-21-09 that have many supporters of SB 14 up in arms.
- Strength – First of all, executive orders carry less muscle because they can easily be retracted by future governors. An executive order does not carry force of law.
- Crossing State Lines – SB 14 held provisions that would have limited utilities’ ability to purchase clean energy from across state lines and would have required that at least 70 percent of the renewable energy be produced in California. The governor’s EO rescinds that provision, claiming that it violated the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.
- CSP Permitting – Large-scale concentrated solar power (CSP) plants, especially those on remote desert lands, have been a major source of controversy in California, mainly for environmental reasons. SB 14 would have required CSP plants over 50 MW to receive a site permit from the Department of Fish and Game, in addition to the California Energy Commission. You’ll find no such provision in the governor’s executive order.
According to State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), drafter of SB 14, his bill had broad support from investor-owned utilities, the LA Department of Water and Power, labor groups, environmentalists, ratepayer advocates and renewable developers. That same sentiment has been reiterated by many who supported the legislative action.
Why the Executive Order is a Clean Energy Obstacle
The governor’s executive order provides the same basic numbers (33 percent by 2020), but removes the real meat from the bill – the real change the governor disregards as “protectionist.” I personally have argued for a little protectionism in the past, with the aim of ensuring that U.S. citizens reap the green jobs so often touted by renewable energy proponents. In part, SB 14 was an attempt to do just that in California by restricting energy purchases across state lines.
SB 14 would’ve also integrated environmental analysis into the permit process for large-scale solar power plants, many of which have been tied up in litigation for years. Yes, it would have required an extra permit for CSP plants, but it would also have set clear language on the matter that would have satisfied environmental groups and given solar developers something to move on.
In refuting SB 14, Governor Schwarzenegger criticized the “delays” involved with extra permitting and that the bill was “unnecessarily complex.” In actuality, his veto of the bill and subsequent removal of key measures in drafting his executive order will only retain the current uncertainty and confusion regarding large-scale solar development. That same confusion has several projects mired in paperwork legal proceedings.
If there is a reason that SB 14 had such widespread support among industry, environmental and ratepayer advocacy groups, it is that, despite some new restrictions and requirements, the bill at least cleared a path forward. Yet governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, like an upset child in the grocery store, has plopped down in the middle of the aisle, crossed his arms and legs, and won’t budge until he gets his way.