The May 8 article “Solar and wind are booming – just not in the California desert” suggests that limited availability of developable land is slowing growth of renewable energy in California. This is not the case. Work by the Nature Conservancy and others shows that California’s renewable energy goals can be met in an economically viable manner without developing environmentally sensitive lands.
While availability of land is one variable important to renewable power growth, demand for projects is another, more critical factor. A key driver of demand is the existence of buyers to sign contracts for new renewable electricity.
Historically, California’s primary buyers of renewable energy have been its large utilities. Today, the utilities have little incentive to sign additional contracts, because they have already signed agreements for quantities that are likely to meet California’s 2020 renewable targets under historical growth projections. However, the utilities are experiencing declining loads, driven by gains in energy efficiency and increasing rooftop solar. And, Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) is a rapidly growing option, available to local governments within the service areas of Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs).
Communities are demanding more renewable energy, beyond even that required by California’s current target of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. For example, Lancaster Choice allows its customers to choose up to 100 percent renewable energy. As the CCA customer base grows and the IOU customer base decreases, IOU signed renewable contracts may exceed not just current but future renewable requirements. Given this reality, the IOUs are not inclined to sign long-term contracts for new, large-scale renewable resources.
CCAs are still developing financial resources to be able to sign 20-year renewable contracts. Moreover, they are also balancing investing in local renewable resources that can provide jobs in their community with more remote projects, such as those in the desert.
In the longer-term, there is strong confidence that the CCAs have the will to support continued renewable electricity supply, beyond the current minimum state target. Work products such as the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) will help them do that, in the most environmentally responsible manner. In fact, there are 10 solar projects currently moving forward within the framework of the DRECP, representing more than 2,900 MW of supply.
Planning agencies have long known that smart land use, planning, and siting practices can support and enable development by reducing the frequency and magnitude of unpleasant surprises, for all parties involved. The DRECP is one such smart land use planning initiative.
As a commissioner at the California PUC, I helped develop the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI), a statewide effort to help identify transmission projects to accommodate California’s renewable goals and facilitate transmission and generation siting and permitting. RETI piloted some of the tools and problem-solving approaches that the DRECP has expanded upon.
Another leading-edge planning initiative is the San Joaquin Valley Least Conflict Land Study, which identifies least-conflict lands for solar photovoltaic development from multiple stakeholder perspectives.
We must use the latest and best resources and tools in our tool kits, including multi-year, multi-stakeholder collaborative work products like the DRECP, to demonstrate to the rest of the world a replicable path to continued growth, without sacrificing conservation priorities.
Dian Grueneich is a senior research scholar, Stanford University, and a former commissioner with the California Public Utilities Commission (2005-2010). Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Valley Voice: Changing market is molding ‘green’ power, by Dian Grueneich, The Desert Sun, May 29, 2017.