Don’t Let Calls for Improvement Halt Clean Energy Progress in California

, Senior energy analyst | December 21, 2012, 2:39 pm EDT
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I’d like to share my take on a recently released report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office that suggests California is blindly stumbling into its clean energy future with no roadmap or sense of the terrain it’s already traversed. This report seems to conclude that lack of coordination between energy agencies, or at least evidence of room for improvement, is reason for us to delay making plans for a cleaner energy future. I strongly disagree.

Photo source: Rhodes-Weaver

While there are always ways to improve working relationships between the relevant energy policy bodies in California — California Energy Commission (CEC), the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the California Legislature, and the Governor’s office — the state has already conducted a great deal of analysis to track and evaluate the clean energy programs we’ve implemented so far. In addition, agencies have increased efforts to coordinate programs in recent years, which has yielded more sophisticated and forward-looking planning efforts, and helped break down barriers between agency cultures.

I am not trying to use this blog to discredit the work done by the LAO; there is no doubt that our agencies can work better together. We also need to understand the costs and benefits of investing in cleaner sources of electricity. But I don’t think that broad statements calling for a “comprehensive framework that fully coordinates these activities” (LAO, p.13) is helpful unless we first point out specific inefficiencies and identify what we will gain from increased coordination. Meetings for meetings’ sake are not helpful.

For those that have made it this far into my post, I wanted to share some of the publicly available resources at one’s fingertips that track and evaluate our clean energy programs.

Everything (and more!) you ever wanted to know about the California RPS Program

Each quarter, the CPUC prepares a report to the legislature on the state’s investor-owned utility (IOU) progress towards meeting the 33% Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) requirement. Last year, the Legislature required that annually, this report also include information about the cost of these contracts. One report has been released so far, and I wrote a blog on it’s conclusions in February.

The CPUC maintains a database of signed RPS contracts and expected renewable energy generation. To access it, click here and download the spreadsheet called “RPS Project Status Table”.

The CEC tracks the RPS progress of the publicly owned utilities (POUs) and maintains a database of each utility’s renewable energy investments. Click here to access the page, then download the spreadsheet called “Updated Publicly Owned Utilities Database.” I used this information to co-author a report that analyzed POU renewable energy investments and recommended ways in which the CEC could improve current reporting standards.

Assessments of the California Solar Initiative

Each year, the CPUC submits a report to the Legislature assessing the status and progress of the California Solar Initiative, which aims to install 3 GW of rooftop solar PV by 2016.

Additional statistics about rooftop PV installations in California can be found here.

Programs that support clean energy research and other clean energy technologies

The state recently consolidated its programs that support clean energy research and development, existing renewable facilities, and emerging renewable technologies into one program umbrella called the Electric Program Investment Charge. This reorganization has greatly enhanced coordination between the state energy agencies because the CEC is now in charge of developing a 3-year investment plan that includes all of these programs, which must be reviewed and approved by the CPUC. The plan for 2012-2014 can be found here.

What we’ve done to examine clean energy program costs

In addition to the RPS contract cost information the CPUC must disclose annually to the Legislature, a different annual report analyzes the utility costs of all programs and activities it administers. You can download the latest report here.

And don’t think that the state committed to the 33% RPS without analyzing its potential costs. The CPUC hired consultants to develop a publicly available RPS calculator that has been continually updated and used in the state’s long-term energy planning processes.

Additional examples of inter-agency coordination

To ensure renewable energy development in the desert does not happen haphazardly or inefficiently, the CEC is working with the California Department of Fish and Game, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). This effort represents an unprecedented collaboration between state and federal agencies to take a coordinated and cumulative impacts approach to land use planning.

Finally, for the past two years, the 10-year energy planning effort the CPUC undertakes has benefited from direct input from the California Independent System Operator. This makes sense since both agencies play a role in transmission planning in the state, and making decisions regarding what types of facilities generate electricity at any point in time.

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  • Felix

    There is no such thing as totally clean energy. Somehow or other the environment is affected somewhere along the process of producing “clean” energy. But if we are talking about emission-free “clean” energy that is continuous and capable of supplanting fossil fuels, then the singular solution, in one word, is nuclear.

    Not the same uranium-based, water-cooled nuclear technology that we grew up and live with, but a newer, safer, does-not-need-to-sit-by-a-river power plant. You mean a nuclear reactor that can be viable in the middle of a desert? How can that be? Is it magic? What is this “new” reactor design? It is called a thorium reactor, or more accurately, a liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR).

    Here are two links:



    “The world desperately needs sustainable, low carbon energy to address climate change while lifting people out of poverty. Thorium-based reactors, such as those designed by the late Alvin Weinberg, could radically change perceptions of nuclear power leading to widespread deployment.” — Baroness Worthington