April 8, 2008 / 11:42 PM / 10 years ago

California voters may toughen renewable targets

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A measure requiring renewable energy sources make up half the electricity in California by 2025 took a step toward making the November ballot on Tuesday, when proponents turned in about 735,000 signatures to county officials in the state.

Solar panels sit on a roof at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, June 18, 2007. REUTERS/Kimberly White

Before the signatures were presented, groups including some environmental groups and alternative energy supporters called the effort well-intentioned but ill-conceived and too costly.

Jim Gonzalez, a former San Francisco supervisor and main proponent of the measure, said California’s current goal to make renewable energy sources such as wind and solar 33 percent of the state’s power by 2020 is not ambitious enough.

“The issue here is global warming,” said Gonzalez. “We aren’t changing (how electricity is made) rapidly enough.”

Gonzalez is chairman of the initiative campaign and a leader of the group behind it, Californians for Solar and Clean Energy. The group was given $1.8 million in seed funds from environmentalist Peter Sperling.

They are countered by Californians Against Another Risky Energy Proposition. This group supports shifting to renewable energy but not at the quicker pace called for by Gonzalez and signers of the petition.

Opponents say the proposal would drive up prices for renewable power by setting targets that would force utilities to sign contracts regardless of how much they cost.

A research paper being distributed by initiative opponents warns it “could slam the brakes on renewable energy development in the state, and “could cause further delays in getting renewables built.”

It could also mean much higher electricity rates, said initiative opponents.

But Gonzalez and other supporters, including James Hansen, a noted climatologist from NASA, say California can do more, starting with banning all coal-fired generation that now comes from out of state to serve major metro areas like Los Angeles.

California does not allow major coal projects in-state and has banned utilities from adding to their coal-fired mix from out-of-state.

He also called for “solar and clean energy zones,” primarily in the desert, to put solar and other renewable projects on a fast-track approval process.

If the signatures can be verified, California’s secretary of state in June can say whether the measure will be on the November ballot along with the U.S. presidential vote, which would guarantee the measure more attention.

Gonzalez said that his group has gathered 41 percent more signatures that required by state law, which he says makes it highly likely the measure will come before voters this fall.

Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Christian Wiessner

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