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California utilities set to beat target -- Goal of 20% renewables within reach

California's three largest utilities say they are committed to meeting the state's renewable energy mandate seven years early -- and two are poised to do so. Southern California Edison (SCE) and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) say they could easily achieve California's 20% target already by 2010, a new goal being floated by some in state government. San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), the third largest utility, remains in a catch-up role, but says it, too, is committed to the 2010 date.

In 2002, California set a target of 20% renewables by 2017. Interim steps call for each utility to increase its mix of renewables each year by 1% over the previous year's portfolio. Those annual goals mean that SCE, the state's second larges utility, is virtually at the renewables target. SCE's Gil Alexander says it ended 2004 with more than 18% of its power coming from renewables. From PG&E, Jon Tremayne also says the state's largest utility can easily reach an earlier target.

SCE recently signed contracts for 141-427 MW of additional renewable energy, pending regulatory approval. Of that, 99-270 MW is new wind projects proposed by Coram Energy Group (12-100 MW), Seawest Wind Power (37-50 MW), and Western Wind (50-120 MW). SCE plans another request for proposals (RFP) later this year, Alexander says. "We have no doubt we'll meet either state deadline."

PG&E's Tremayne is slightly more cautious. "We've told the legislators and (state) leadership that a move to 2010 is achievable," he says. "We're shooting for 2010 anyway." Recently, PG&E announced it will add up to 158 MW of wind. Contracts have been signed, pending regulatory approval, with FPL Montezuma for 32 MW, Buena Vista for 28-43 MW, and Pacific Renewable for 83 MW. The projects will provide nearly three quarters of the 1% 2004 interim step. The utility, Tremayne says, is in discussion with additional providers to achieve the remainder of the annual target. PG&E is formulating a request for offers (RFO) for 2005, and Tremayne expects it to be released in the next "month or two." In all, PG&E currently obtains 13% of its power from renewables qualifying under the state mandate.


SDG&E has about 5.5% renewables in its portfolio, but the utility's Ed Van Herik says it is "aggressively pursuing" more. Staff are still reviewing responses to its RFO issued in fall last year and expect to make a decision within the next two months, says Van Herik. He will not say how many bids were received or which technologies they represent.

Nancy Rader of the California Wind Energy Association says that, overall, she believes the utilities will either meet or come close to meeting the intermediate step of 1% this year, but some of the accounting for megawatts may be disputed, for instance whether transmission losses should be calculated in the figures. Rader says a more worrisome issue is whether the march for new wind will hit a wall of transmission constraints. In the Tehachapi region, she says, the lack of grid capacity could hamper harvesting one of the state's most productive districts.

In all, about 510 MW of new wind power has come online since the mandate took effect, says Rader. This is not including the volume of resources SDG&E will declare for 2004. In addition, some 100 MW of existing facilities were repowered, adding another 50 MW of new wind power to the system. Additional megawatts of non-wind renewables have also come online.

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