Golden State gets a green power surge


California’s famous sunshine is about to be put to work. Under a new law signed by Gov. Gray Davis, D, in mid-September, California’s three investor-owned utilities must buy 20 percent of their power from alternative energy sources such as solar and wind. State environmental officials say the move will help California reduce pollution, and also help prevent a repeat of the energy crisis that gripped the state two years ago (HCN, 1/29/01: Power on the loose).

State Sen. Byron Sher, D, who sponsored the legislation, says requiring utilities to tap more alternative energy will give the green energy industry the extra push it needs to compete with natural gas and nuclear power plants.

To avoid higher electric bills, the law directs the state Public Utilities Commission to cap the price utilities pay for renewable power. The program, which will be phased into effect by 2017, will also be subsidized by a “public goods charge” that consumers already pay. The charge — less than half of one cent per kilowatt hour — brings in about $135 million each year for renewable energy development, conservation programs and bill-paying assistance.

California is only the third state in the West to require utilities to purchase green power. But the idea appears to be catching on: Renewables advocates are making headway in pushing for such mandates in a handful of other Western states, including New Mexico, Utah, Oregon and Washington.

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