California's Legislative Leaders Announce a Clean Energy Jobs Initiative to Boost Renewable Energy Development, Manufacturing, Job Training and Procurement

02.16.2011
Nossaman eAlert

Last week, leaders of California's Legislature announced a Clean Energy Jobs Initiative to spur job growth and investment in California's clean energy business sector.  Assembly Speaker John Pérez and Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg outlined four measures the Legislature will be taking up to support renewable energy development, manufacturing, education, and procurement.  The legislative leaders also anticipate numerous other clean-tech and green-tech policy proposals this year.  Given the impact these proposals will have in directing investments in clean energy over the next decade, industry leaders will be watching these proposals very closely as they move through the policymaking process.

The four measures specified so far include:

Streamlined Siting for Wind and Geothermal Energy Projects.  This measure reduces red tape for the siting and construction of wind and geothermal energy projects.  Last year, the Legislature passed SB 34 x8 (Padilla) to expedite solar projects by streamlining the California Energy Commission's project review process for solar facility developers.  SB 34 allows developers to substitute the Energy Commission's internal review process with a certified outside consultant and pay a mitigation fee in lieu of acquiring mitigation land for solar projects.  The SB 34 process has already benefitted at least 15 solar energy projects in the Mojave and Colorado desert regions.  New legislation, called the Renewable Energy Siting Act, would expand the SB 34 process to wind and geothermal plants to broaden California's appeal to renewable energy investors.

Enhancing the Renewables Portfolio Standard.  This measure firms up the state's policy of requiring public and private energy providers to procure 33 percent of their retail sales of electricity from renewable resources, such as wind, solar, and geothermal, by 2020.  California's Public Utilities Code already requires utilities to increase their quota of renewable energy by one percent each year, and executive orders have set the goal of 33 percent by 2020 (Executive Orders S-14-08 and S-21-09).  This measure would codify that 2020 target to reinforce the necessity for California's energy providers to find renewable energy solutions.  The legislation is expected to increase demand for renewable energy suppliers, development, and research into new technologies to produce renewable energy more cheaply.

Career Technical Education.  This measure, SB 148 (Steinberg), aligns high school curriculum with job training in the clean energy sector.  SB 148 would establish a dedicated funding stream to invest in career technical education that delivers skills and knowledge needed for employment in clean technology.  A special fund at the California Energy Commission would be tapped for $8 million annually over five years to fund start-up of 90 new academies in growing job sectors.  SB 148 is designed to develop a skilled workforce to support the emerging green economy.

Incentives to Increase Energy Efficiency.  This measure, the Clean Energy Reserve program, will provide loan guarantees for homeowners and small businesses to invest in energy efficiency or renewable energy features on their property.  The program utilizes a $50 million trust fund to provide a reserve and other credit enhancements for property owners who want to install energy efficiency improvements, on-site generators like photovoltaics, or electric vehicle charging equipment.  The trust fund acts as a backstop for lenders against the risk of occasional loan loss, thereby allowing the borrower to borrow at lower interest rates.

This year's Clean Energy Jobs Initiative follows a succession of policies in recent years to make California more attractive and conducive to clean-tech and green-tech investors.  Policies like the Renewables Portfolio Standard, Cap-and-Trade regulations, and others will increase demand for renewable energy resources and second-generation technologies.  And programs like the Million Solar Roofs Initiative and PACE have made it easier for property owners to equip their homes and businesses with energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements.

But policymakers are also aiming to boost renewable energy suppliers, whether its through workforce development, streamlined regulation, or grants and loans.  Last year, the Legislature enacted a sales and use tax exclusion for manufacturing equipment that produces renewable energy sources, like solar panels and wind turbines (SB 71, Padilla).  Other legislation expedited the development of solar energy projects by streamlining the siting process, an innovation that the legislative leaders now want to expand to wind and geothermal plants (SB 34 x8, Padilla).  For fuel technology, AB 118 (Nunez, 2007) established the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program, a $100 million-per-year program that provides grants and loans to projects that develop low-carbon fuels, optimize alternative fuels for existing engine technologies, expand fuel infrastructure such as fueling stations and equipment, or establish workforce training programs. 

Because these policies are on the cutting edge of a burgeoning green-tech sector, lawmakers and executive branch agencies are constantly monitoring and recalibrating how they are applied, and entertaining new ideas every legislative session on how to leverage California's assets to maintain its lead in the green economy.  This year, the Legislature is starting with its four Clean Energy Jobs Initiative bills, but Pérez and Steinberg's forecast is right on point that numerous other policy proposals are expected to follow – not only in the legislative arena, but in the regulatory and administrative arenas as well.

Nossaman's California public policy advisors have in-depth knowledge in green-tech and clean-tech issues.  The group has the background and relationships to navigate the complexities of California state government.  Richard Harris is the head of the California Public Policy Group and he can be reached at 916.930.7743 or rharris@nossaman.com.

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