Mon, Jul 04, 2011 - Page 9 News List

Brown wants to put California’s sunshine to work

By Peter Henderson  /  Reuters, SAN FRANCISCO

California plans to get a third of its electricity from wind, solar and other renewable energy, but Governor “Moonbeam” Jerry Brown wants more. Soon.

The feisty 73-year-old who brings a former seminarian’s zeal to environmentalism sees green jobs reinvigorating the economy and restoring California’s position as world leader in clean energy.

Never mind budget gaps, technology gaps or the political gap that will come as the state legislature’s champion of alternative energy is termed out of office.

“I didn’t get my name Governor Moonbeam for nothing! I earned it, by advocating ideas that were not popular,” said Brown, who earned the nickname Governor “Moonbeam” three decades ago when he wanted California to buy a satellite.

Returning to the top state office this year, Brown already has signed a law requiring that the state get a third of its electricity from solar, wind and the like by 2020. He called it just a start. That’s the top goal in the US in terms of raw power, although by 2030 tiny Hawaii is shooting for 40 percent, a number that resonates with Brown.

“I think 40 percent, at reasonable cost, is well within our grasp in the near future,” he said in a statement on the 33 percent goal, called the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).

His administration is studying how realistic the higher target would be, as well as a parallel, overlapping effort to plaster the state with small arrays of solar panels that could sit anywhere from prison land to the sides of the California aqueduct. Together these small arrays would account for nearly 20 percent of electricity, if Brown’s goals are met.

By contrast, the US Congress has yet to consider a national clean energy standard favored by US President Barack Obama. The Republican-led House of Representatives has opposed most of Obama’s environmental pushes as job killers, leaving California, the eighth-largest economy in the world, in the US vanguard.

Jobs are an important part of the push in a state seeking its next big economic ticket, like microchips or aerospace were in the past. Brown believes California could create half a million jobs by aggressively pursuing alternative energy, energy storage and energy efficiency.

Tom Werner, chief executive of solar panel maker SunPower Corp, has met with Brown more than once this year and says solar energy dominates meetings with the governor even when the topic is not supposed to be solar.

“He reminded me that he was a solar advocate in the 70s, he was the original advocate and he suggested that the RPS would probably go up,” Werner said.

Getting to 40 percent renewables would test California’s electric grid, strain its ability to put new generation on line fast and exacerbate the problem of intermittent sources.

New power lines and big solar and wind farms are being planned and built — and environmentalists are challenging many as threats to the state, which has dozens more endangered species than neighbors. It also has deserts, mountain passes, and geothermal fields perfect for renewables.

The power grid operator has a new command center built with 33 percent renewables in mind. It monitors clouds heading toward the Mojave Desert, for instance.

“That’s what it’s all about — keeping visually one step ahead of nature,” said Stephanie McCorkle, spokeswoman for the California Independent System Operator.

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