Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Solano County, 90 modern wind turbines churn out 162 megawatts of electricity for utilities in Sacramento and central California.

California looks to alternative power in greenhouse gas battle


BIRD'S LANDING, CALIF. -- On the parched crop and ranch land of the Montezuma Hills in Solano County, 90 modern wind turbines churn out 162 megawatts of electricity for utilities in Sacramento and central California.

Shirley Paolini, a chatty tavern owner at the Bird's Landing crossroads, admires the quiet efficiency of the turbines, which tower over her on a hill just beyond her back door. She even knows which of the 60-metre-tall beasts utters a low moan as it turns to face the prevailing wind.

For Ms. Paolini, the High Winds energy project is not an unwanted intrusion but a welcome sign of progress. For its utility customers, the wind farm that produces enough electricity for 75,000 homes is part of a portfolio of renewable energy supplies that must rapidly expand to meet California's climate change targets.

The state's electric power utilities -- both investor-owned and municipal systems -- have long been on the front line of California's battle to clean up its smog problem.
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The Globe and Mail

As a result of aggressive energy efficiency targets, per capita use of electricity has remained flat for the past 30 years in the state, while it grew by 50 per cent across the United States.

Now, the utilities face a new challenge with the passage of legislation that requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

To help accomplish that, the power companies -- which produce 20 per cent of the state's greenhouse gas emissions -- will have to find new ways to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.

Nuclear energy is not an option -- the state long ago banned the construction of new nuclear plants until permanent storage is found for radioactive waste. Instead, the power companies will crank up spending on energy efficiency programs, the cost of which they are permitted to recoup through rate schedules. Higher rates, goes the mantra, does not equate fatter bills if consumption is reduced.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which serves northern California, will spend $2-billion (U.S.) to install "smart meters," digital devices that record minute-by-minute usage. PG&E has recently won permission from the state regulator to implement "time of use" billing, with higher rates for peak hours in order to encourage consumers to turn off their air conditioners at peak hours, or do their laundry at night.

Lower peak-hour consumption would reduce PG&E's costs and its emission of greenhouse gases because the utility relies on expensive natural gas-fired plants for peak power.

The utilities must also ensure that 20 per cent of their power supply comes from renewable sources by 2010 -- a requirement that dwarfs any Canadian utility's commitment.

PG&E chief executive officer Thomas King said his utility is already at 13 per cent, and has contracts that will boost the renewable portfolio to 18 per cent by the end of 2007. Mr. King said wind, solar and geothermal are all increasingly competitive with fossil fuels -- especially given the government-imposed costs associated with carbon dioxide emissions. PG&E is even looking at harnessing the tides that sweep into San Francisco Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge.

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