California boasts highest RPS but more effort is needed

By Anna Austin | April 14, 2011

California now has the highest mandatory renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in the U.S., but current laws may prevent the state from reaching its true renewable potential.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB X1-2 on April 12, which made into law former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s executive order requiring investor-owned and municipal electric utilities in the state to source 33 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2020.

While Brown stated that one of the reasons he signed the bill was to stimulate investment in green technologies in the state, current California laws are not conducive toward implementation of certain nonincineration renewable energy technologies, or the utilization of some overly-abundant biomass resources, according to Jim Stewart, president of the Bioenergy Producers Association. Specifically, the biogenic portion of municipal solid waste (MSW)—anything left over after what can be recycled is removed— and gasification, for which the state has a scientifically inaccurate definition in statute, Stewart said.

Stewart said as a result of the way the laws are currently written, the state has missed out on more than $1 billion in capital expenditures in new projects and projects have been moved to other states because of the regulatory and statutory environment.

The Bioenergy Producers Association has been battling Democrats on the state’s Senate Environmental Quality Committee for the past five years, proposing legislation that would amend the current laws to allow for more in-state development of projects that utilize the state’s MSW, which do not currently receive credit under the state’s RPS, and to deploy technologies including gasification, pyrolysis and fermentation.

So far, all attempts have failed to gain the needed support from the same five Democrats on the SEQC, and Stewart said because of that, it could take five years or more to gain all of the necessary permits for some projects, if at all.

And, California continues to landfill an enormous amount of waste each year. During the next 20 years, unless new technologies and new methods of disposal are implemented, California will place another 800 million tons of post-recycled material into landfills, according to Stewart.

Still, he commended the state on its efforts and the RPS law. “It’s admirable, and achievable if the state makes a commitment to all sources of renewable energy,” he said. “Our concern is that an integral element of that should be from the biogenic portion of the state’s solid waste stream, and though that source comprises about 35 million tons of waste put into landfills each year post-recycling, right now it can’t contribute to meeting that goal.”