California’s utilities generated 15.4% of their energy from renewables in 2009, up from 13% in 2008, according to the CPUC quarterly report. If demand had remained constant, the percentage would have been 18%, but some small hydro decreases, increases in consumer demand, and the end of some renewable contracts cut into the percentage.
Although the deadline is 2010 for 20% renewable, the utilities have an extension till 2013 to get their utility-scale projects actually switched on. All three have signed contracts for well over that amount.
Even as the deadline for getting to 20% closes, the three utilities, PG&E, SCE and SDG&E also requested approval of more than 50 additional renewable power contracts before the end of the year, twice as much as they have requested in prior years. These would likely not make the 2013 deadline, but will contribute towards the supply of renewable power by 2020.
Among the 7,135 MW of already approved renewable projects that are on schedule for this year or next are the up to 900 MW Stirling solar thermal, the 554 MW Solel (Luz-style solar thermal) project in the Mojave and the 550 MW OptiSolar thinfilm project near San Luis Obisbo. Wind projects include a 1,500 MW addition within Tehachapi, (Alta) and 800 MW (coming from Oregon). There are numerous small biomass and biogas projects.
A total of 1,377 MW of new geothermal power has been approved, mostly coming from Imperial County, with only 231 MW is coming from out of state (Nevada). 1,000 MW of BrightSource solar will come from Nevada, and 310 MW is approved from the Ivanpah site.
Permitting of renewable generation facilities can be complex, long, and uncertain. Renewable generation facilities must receive a site permit in order to construct a project. The type of permit needed depends on three factors: a) technology type, b) project size and c) project location. The California Energy Commission is responsible for approving permits for thermal power plants 50 MW and greater.
All other projects must receive a county or city permit. Projects on federal land must also receive permits from the appropriate federal agencies – usually the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the United States Forest Service (USFS). Most renewable facilities must seek a permit from a federal agency since many of the best solar, wind, and geothermal resource sites are on federal land.
Opposition to transmission lines, and local city and county level opposition, delays in environmental review from a federal agency slowed the approval time line, according to the utilities commission.