SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California lawmakers on Friday began approving legislation that would establish the nation's most ambitious renewable-energy standards, even as some warned that the rules would increase energy costs and hurt the state's economy.
The Senate and Assembly began voting on two companion bills that would require utilities to get one-third of their power from renewable energy sources by 2020. One bill cleared an initial hurdle in the Senate on a simple majority vote with just a few hours remaining in this year's regular legislative session.
If passed and signed into law, the standard would be the most aggressive in the nation.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger favors raising the state's renewable mandate to 33 percent and bringing in more energy through wind, solar and geothermal sources, but he has yet to take a stance on the bills.
Most Republicans oppose the legislation and particularly object to a provision that would limit the amount of power utilities could buy from alternative sources outside California. They say the restriction could increase costs for utilities and consumers.
"I don't want to see that we craft a policy that hurts California. These measures could potentially make California the greenest Third World economy in the world," Sen. John Benoit, R-Palm Desert, told his colleagues as he opposed the measure.
He and fellow Republican Sen. Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga cited a study that projected a $10 billion annual increase in utility costs.
"This is just not smart business," Dutton said.
Part of the concern over rising costs stems from a provision in the legislation limiting the amount of renewable power utilities could buy from alternative-energy providers in other states.
The bills by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, and Assemblyman Paul Krekorian, D-Burbank, would allow utilities to import renewable energy generated outside California as long as the power comes from a plant that connects to California's electricity grid.
Utilities also could buy a limited number of credits from out-of-state producers of alternative energy as a way to promote the development of clean power, even though that power would not reach California markets.
Simitian said concerns over cost increases were being exaggerated and said some utilities already are generating more than 33 percent of their power from renewable sources.
"Is it doable? It's doable today," he said.
Consumer advocates and environmental groups sought the limit on out-of-state power. They say generating most of the renewable energy in California will promote job growth.
"Consumers are going to pay more for renewable energy, so we want them to get the jobs," said Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group.
The legislation did get some bipartisan support. Republican Tony Strickland of Thousand Oaks supported the measure, saying its goals were noble even if it certain aspects of it could have been improved.
California already has one of the most aggressive standards among the 31 states that require utilities to generate a certain amount of their power from renewable sources, according to the Arlington, Va.-based Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
The state's investor-owned utilities are obligated by law to generate at least 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by next year, although most are expected to miss the deadline.
The California Public Utilities Commission also has said the state's utilities will need to build additional transmission lines and other infrastructure to move more renewable energy. Construction could cost $115 billion over 10 years.
Earlier this week, lawmakers amended the package to give utilities more time to meet the standard if the network of transmission lines was insufficient or circumstances outside their control prevented them from complying.
The group Environment California calls the amendment a loophole for utilities.
On the Net:
Read the bills, SB14 and AB64, at http://www.senate.ca.gov and http://www.assembly.ca.gov