California on Target to Early RPS Goals

20 percent by 2013

Carl Dombek | Jan 17, 2012


The California Energy Commission (CEC) issued an updated draft of the Lead Commissioner report on the state's progress on renewable energy titled Renewable Power in California: Status and Issues.

A spokesperson for the California Energy Commission told TransmissionHub "the report will show renewable development in the state, offer policy background, and provide statistical information for the Renewable Strategic Plan (IEPR); it will also be critical in crafting the 2012 IEPR."

The draft report, which was originally issued on Dec 5 and then re-issued on December 30, said California appears to be on track to achieve its mandated 20%-by-2013 renewable portfolio standard (RPS) target. Data from the California Public Utilities Commission cited in the report “shows that 2,600 MW of new renewable capacity has begun commercial operation since the RPS was established in 2002. Publicly owned utilities have added another 2,000 MW of renewable capacity since the RPS program began. As of 2010, California had about 10,000 MW of renewable generating capacity, with more than 4,300 MW from utility-scale renewables,” the report continued.

Nearly 16% of statewide retail energy sales came from renewable generation facilities in 2010, the report said.  State standards require that 25% of retail energy sales come from renewable sources by Dec. 31, 2016, and 33% by Dec. 31, 2020.

“Estimates of the amount of renewable energy needed to meet the 33% by 2020 RPS target beyond what is expected to be provided by existing facilities in 2020 range from 35,300 GWh hours to 47,000 GWh. As of May 2011, enough renewable generation was either on-line or under contract to achieve this range, assuming all existing renewable facilities remain on-line in 2020 and all to most of the contracted renewables are built,” the report continued.

However, the report acknowledged a risk of contract failure. “Data from the Energy Commission’s investor-owned utility contract database indicates that since the start of the RPS program, about 30% of long-term RPS contracts (10 years or more) approved by the California Public Utilities Commission have been cancelled. The contract failure rate increases to about 40% if contracts that are delayed are considered,” the report added.

Nonetheless, the report stated that California has significant potential for additional renewable development to meet the 33% RPS target, “with an estimated 18.2 million MW of renewable technical potential (the amount of generating capacity theoretically possible).”

Notably, the total figure includes 17 million MW of energy potential from photovoltaics and approximately 1.06 million from concentrating solar power. The remaining 153,200 MW potential consists of approximately 33,000 MW wave and tidal power, and 75,400 MW of off-shore wind. On-shore wind has a 34,000 MW potential, according to the report.

Biomass has a potential of 3,820 MW, geothermal 4,825 MW, and small hydro 2,158 MW potential, according to the report.

The report acknowledges that lack of sufficient existing infrastructure, planning, permitting, environmental issues, the intermittent nature of renewable energy, and challenges with required financing can all potentially thwart the best-laid plans.

“Because many renewable resources are located in remote areas, the state will need to upgrade existing or develop new transmission infrastructure to bring electricity from these areas to the state’s load centers. This is made more complex by the current disconnect between generation and transmission planning and permitting processes wherein the length of time needed for transmission development requires transmission projects to proceed while there is still uncertainty about where generators will ultimately be located,” the report acknowledged.

Even when sufficient generation and transmission infrastructure is in place, “there are further issues with integrating large amounts of intermittent renewable electricity,” the report said.

“Because generation from [renewable] resources may vary over time in periods as short as seconds, it can cause difficulties for grid operators who must maintain a constant balance between generation supply and real-time customer demand while also meeting established standards for controlling fluctuations in frequency and voltage,” the report continued.

“On the financial side, there are financing gaps at certain stages of renewable development as well as costs associated with environmental review and permitting, construction, and interconnection of renewable facilities. Significant investment is needed to bring down the costs of existing renewable technologies and develop the new technologies that will be crucial to integrating renewable technologies into the grid, but investment in energy-related research and development is about $1 billion less than a decade ago,” the report said.

The report is a supporting document for the state’s 2011 Integrated Energy Policy Report (IEPR) and as such does not need to be approved by the full commission.

This story first appeared in TransmissionHub, a unit of Energy Central.

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