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Since the late 1970's, California has been a world leader in promoting renewable energy. Renewable energy reduces greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful air pollutants. It reduces our dependence on foreign oil and assures a steady, uninterrupted supply of energy. It also creates three to five times as many jobs as fossil fuel production. California has one of the country's most ambitious renewable portfolio standards, requiring that retail sellers of electricity provide 20% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2010, increasing to 33% by 2020. These standards help to create a large, reliable market for renewable energy, which encourages green investment and creates jobs.
California is a leader in encouraging smaller-scale renewable energy production. Assembly Bill 811 (Levine, 2008) is a groundbreaking law authorizing local governments to finance the up-front costs of residential and commercial renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. This funding mechanism is commonly called “Property Assessed Clean Energy” or PACE.
In July 2010, the Federal Housing Finance Agency took action to shut down PACE in California and across the nation, forcing the Attorney General to file suit to protect this important program. See PACE Protection Litigation.
A tool that has worked effectively to promote renewable energy in other countries is a "feed-in-tariff," a policy that sets a fixed price at which producers of renewable power can sell their power to utilities. The Attorney General filed a brief with the California Public Utilities Commission supporting the Commission's legal authority to issue such a tariff. Read the brief, pdf. The Attorney General filed similar supporting comments with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Read the letter, pdf. FERC subsequently stated its clear support of feed-in-tariffs. In an order issued October 21, 2010, FERC held that California has the ability to set purchase rates that are sufficient to spur renewable energy development. Read the order, pdf. The FERC order paves the way for full and effective use of feed-in-tariffs in California.
To remove barriers for small-scale renewables, the Attorney General has advocated that the California Public Utilities Commission expand "virtual net metering," which allows solar power to be installed on multi-unit buildings and shared with the building’s residents. Read the letter, pdf. In July 2011, the Commission took action consistent with our recommendation and ordered the major utilities to accommodate virtual net metering on all multi-tenant and multi-meter properties. Read the decision, pdf.
The Attorney General has challenged local governments’ attempts to create unnecessary and illegal hurdles for renewables.
In February, 2010, the Attorney General sent a letter to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors urging that they remove impediments to commercial renewable energy development in the proposed Open Space and Conservation Element of their General Plan, read the letter, pdf, and sent a letter to the Glendale Planning Commission, encouraging the City to correct its non-compliance with the state Solar Rights Act, and to amend its zoning code to exempt solar energy systems from permit review without a specific finding of adverse impacts to health or safety read the letter, pdf. Local governments can streamline the permitting of small-scale renewable energy projects by, for example, adopting model ordinances.
Energy storage can also help the State meet its growing peak load demand for electricity and ensure the reliability of our electrical system as we integrate more renewables. For these reasons, the Attorney General sponsored legislation directing the California Energy Commission and publicly-owned utilities to consider establishing targets for utilities to purchase or build cost-effective and viable energy storage systems. AB 2514, pdf. became law on September 29, 2010.