Renewables win 2, lose 1

Renewable energy in California took some punches to the gut and scored some victories some this week and last.

On the upside, the California Public Utilities Commission appears poised to launch an incentive program meant to boost renewable energy projects and San Luis Obispo County moved the 250 megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch a big step forward by issuing a draft environmental impact report.

On the downside, the California Legislature failed to pass a renewable energy bill and the industry still faces the potential passage of Prop. 23, which would roll back 2006 climate change laws.

The proposed CPUC decision issued this week would require California utilities to purchase power from solar and other renewables that produce from one megawatt to 20 megawatts. A megawatt is about the amount consumed by 1,000 homes.

The measure would establish what is known in the industry as a feed-in tariff, which essentially gives renewable energy generators about what it costs to produce power.

Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar, hailed the CPUC decision. He said in a statement that the proposed measure would assist mid-sized solar projects, helping them secure support similar to the state's "robust policies for developing large, utility-scale solar power plants and for putting smaller systems on homes and businesses."

Browning said his organization looks forward to working with the CPUC to finalize details of the measure.

The "CPUC proposal is designed to unlock that missing piece, providing an additional opportunity for solar market and job growth and for quickly bringing massive new amounts of clean energy to the state,” he said.

The San Luis solar project is bound for 1,900 acres in the Carrizo Plains, an environmentally sensitive region known for endangered wildlife. Eric Wesoff of wrote that the environmental impact report, or EIR, involved 60 biologists and 30 biological surveys.

The EIR goes through a public comment period before heading back to county government for possible passage. Wesoff said trucks commissioned by developer San Jose-based SunPower could begin rolling by next summer.

The renewable energy bill ran out of time in the senate by the midnight deadline Tuesday. SB 722 would have turned an executive order signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger last year requiring that 33 percent of California's energy come from renewable sources by 2020 into law.

The failure disappointed supporters. Lauren Sommer of quoted Laura Wisland, a clean energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, as saying, "We think not establishing a 33 percent renewable portfolio standard this year is a huge loss to California's environment and economy."