Renewable resource requirement knocked
Modesto-area water and power officials worry a likely California ballot measure could leave them in the dark.
Lobbying lawmakers on Monday, Modesto Irrigation District managers warned about the potential consequences of a state ballot measure requiring greater reliance on renewable energy. The proposal would require California utilities to generate half of their power through renewable sources by 2025.
“We may need to buy stock in Pier 1, for the candles,” said Allen Short, Modesto Irrigation District general manager.
Renewable sources currently account for about 12 percent of the power generated by the district, and Short indicated more is coming on line. With the help of a $720,000 state grant, for instance, the Fiscalini Cheese Co. is installing a “methane digester” that will extract methane gas from cow manure; the irrigation district could buy the resulting energy.
“We’ve had a couple of other dairymen express interest in that,” Short told staffers for Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa.
But Short and Joy A. Warren, the Modesto district’s regulatory administrator, added that pushing utility districts too aggressively could cause reliabil- ity problems. The proposed ballot measure would require utilities to generate 20 percent of their power by 2010, 40 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2025 by using renewable sources.
Investor-owned utilities, such as Pacific Gas and Electric Co., face a 2020 deadline for generating 20 percent of their power through renewable sources. The proposed ballot measure would stiffen the renewable requirements and extend them to publicly owned utilities as well, such as the Modesto, Merced and Turlock irrigation districts.
Proponents are collecting the 433,971 signatures needed to qualify the Solar and Clean Energy Initiative for the California ballot.
“Californians must take energy reform into their own hands,” the proposed ballot measure states. “The alternative to dirty energy is clean and solar energy.”
Statewide, about 11 percent of California’s energy springs from solar or other renewable sources. Ballot measure proponents note that conventional electricity production contributes to global warming. The proposed renewable energy mandates, proponents add, should only increase utility rates by about 3 percent.
“Global warming and climate change is now a real crisis,” the proposed ballot measure states.
Championed by former San Francisco County Supervisor Jim Gonzalez, the renewable energy initiative is entirely a state matter.
Nonetheless, utility officials such as Short and Warren say they want to “educate” Congress about the measure they fear will prove too burdensome.
Monday morning, the utility executives found a sympathetic audience in Radanovich’s office. Radanovich is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is fighting its own renewable conflict.
“The congressman is aware of the difficulties you guys are facing,” Radanovich’s spokesman, Spencer Pederson, assured Short and Warren.
Last year, over the objections of San Joaquin Valley Republican lawmakers, the Democratic-controlled House approved an energy bill requiring utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The renewable energy mandate was later stripped from the bill in the face of strong Senate resistance.
With federal legislation stymied for now, the utility executives are warming up their debating points for the impending California ballot measure.
“If that thing passes,” Short said, “it’s going to be very difficult to keep the lights on.”
By Michael Doyle
Bee Washington Bureau
29 February 2008
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