California, which has a habit of being first on environmental issues, appears set to embark on what might be the most ambitious expansion of renewable energy anywhere in the world. The Legislature seems certain to pass by Friday night a bill requiring utilities to use renewable energy sources to produce at least 33 percent of our electricity by 2020.
That's a tall order, and one that could be made even more difficult by pressures to shut down existing power plants because of concerns about air pollution in Los Angeles and marine life along the coast. Renewables, even if they are available, can't just be plugged in while carbon-based plants are shuttered. We need to keep some of those gas-fired plants running — or build a lot more — so they are ready and able to supply power if the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining.
That's a physics issue. But the Legislature is also poised to introduce a political factor that could make achieving the aggressive new renewable energy goals more difficult and more expensive.
Senate Bill 14, the bill that would place the new standard into law, would also limit the ability of the state's utilities to buy renewable energy from out of state. That provision was placed in the measure at the behest of labor unions and others hoping to give California industry a jump-start and create new power plant jobs here.
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