California feud breaks out on clean energy plan

SAN FRANCISCO/LOS ANGELES Mon Sep 14, 2009 5:27pm EDT

Solar panels are seen atop the roofs of the Nokia Theatre and Staples Center at the L.A. Live entertainment district in downtown Los Angeles in this October 23, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Fred Prouser/Files

Solar panels are seen atop the roofs of the Nokia Theatre and Staples Center at the L.A. Live entertainment district in downtown Los Angeles in this October 23, 2008 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Fred Prouser/Files

SAN FRANCISCO/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will veto a bill requiring the state to get a third of its electricity from solar, wind and other renewable sources, his staff said on Monday in a fight that shows the difficulties of addressing climate change fast.

Schwarzenegger, whose legacy is largely pinned on driving California's response to global warming, believes the bill passed in the last hours of the legislative session on Friday would make it more difficult to build solar plants in the state and to buy power from neighbors.

California's rank as the largest market for renewable power makes any decision important, and as the U.S. Congress struggles to put together a federal plan, the state's leadership and failures could shape a national plan.

"The industry and regulators are going to wind up spending the next few years wrangling about how to implement the bill as opposed to actually putting steel in the ground," said Public Utilities Commission Deputy Director Nancy Ryan on a call sponsored by the governor.

She said more flexibility was needed, while the bill's main sponsor said curbs on buying power from out of state would ensure jobs were kept in California and give needed weight to the 33 percent goal, which state agencies have already set.

"I'm still holding out hope that the governor will rethink that position" of a veto, State Senator Joe Simitian said in a conference call with reporters that overlapped with Ryan's.

CHALLENGES

While many states debate whether so-called green jobs are real and if the cost of cutting carbon is worth the price, Californians focus mostly on how and how fast to move.

Both sides in California want the state to get 33 percent of its electricity from solar, wind and other alternative energy by 2020.

A study by the state's utilities commission says that is unlikely in almost any circumstances due to the complexity and cost of the project, while a 2010 goal of 20 percent renewables is judged impossible to hit on time.

Schwarzenegger's administration plans a Tuesday executive order for the state's climate change lead, the Air Resources Board, to implement the 33 percent standard, and the agency chief said that could be done by the middle of next year.

But the governor's order could be canceled by the winner of the 2010 ballot race to succeed Schwarzenegger, which Simitian was concerned would limit its effectiveness and raise legal challenges.

Industry lined up on both sides. Solar company First Solar lined up in favor of the bill, as did the California Wind Energy Association.

"If the governor does not sign the bill ... we fear that there will be uncertainty and chaos in this market for years," said the wind group's executive director, Nancy Rader.

"We will completely fail to meet the overall 33 pct renewable portfolio," responded Jan Smutny-Jones, executive director of trade group Independent Energy Producers. "This kind of failure is not an acceptable outcome for those of us in the renewable energy industry."

(For more environmental news see our Environment blog at blogs.reuters.com/environment)