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Investor utilities may miss state deadline; Technical snags reported over renewable power  

California’s investor-owned utilities are making progress toward a state-ordered goal of increasing renewable power, but technical snags could keep them from meeting a 2010 legislative deadline, the California Public Utilities Commission said in a report issued Friday.

The utilities are facing a mandate to boost their delivery of electricity from sources such as wind and geothermal plants to 20 percent over the next four years. State lawmakers set that target in 2002 out of concern that California’s reliance on fossil fuels could make it vulnerable to another energy crisis.

Exactly how much renewable power will be available by 2010 is difficult to predict, the PUC report cautioned. Some plant construction may be delayed by a limited supply of wind turbines, for example. Transmission lines will be needed to serve new plants.

Geothermal and wind will provide the majority of renewable power by 2010, with contributions from solar thermal plants, biomass and small hydro projects, the agency report said.

The state’s decree has spurred construction plans for renewable plants. Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric have signed dozens of contracts for renewable power since 2002, the PUC said. Many of the contracts will take years to take effect, however.

As far as renewable electricity supplies in 2005, SoCal Edison ranked highest with 17.7 percent of power sales coming from such sources, reflecting the head start it enjoys in a region already well served by hydropower and other alternative energy sources.

PG&E, which draws power from the Geysers geothermal field, sold 11.8 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, according to the PUC. The agency initially reported an incorrect figure for PG&E, which it corrected.

San Diego Gas and Electric trailed with 5.5 percent. But the San Diego utility has made the most progress compared with its starting point in 2002, said Matt Freedman of the San Francisco consumer watchdog group The Utility Reform Network.

PG&E has made slight gains, but Edison’s renewable sales haven’t changed much after factoring out fluctuations such as heavy winter rainfalls that boost hydropower supplies, Freedman said.

The state mandate is likely to produce real gains over the next few years as plants are completed and utility contracts kick in, Freedman said.

By Bernadette Tansey, Chronicle Staff Writer


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