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Schwarzenegger veto of renewable-energy bill could be risky

The California governor wants to use his own plan to push the state toward using 33 percent renewable energy by 2010. But it might not be legal.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / September 14, 2009

Solar power plant of Sunray Energy Inc. in Doggett, CA. in Mojave Desert.

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Several environmental groups worry that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's attempt to take control of the state's landmark renewable-energy standards is putting the entire effort at risk.

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The state legislature passed a bill Friday that would require California to get 33 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. If signed, the bill would give California the largest, so-called “renewable portfolio standard” in the country.

But Schwarzenegger spokesman Matt David issued a statement saying Governor Schwarzenegger would veto the bills, calling them “poorly drafted, overly complex bills.”

Instead, "the governor will sign an executive order implementing the 33 percent renewable mandate administratively,” Mr. David wrote.

Schwarzenegger is ostensibly trying to boost California’s nascent renewable energy sector, specifically. His executive order would set limits on how much could be imported from outside the state.

David said of the bills: “These are protectionist schemes that will kill the solar industry in California and drive prices up like the failed energy deregulation of the late 1990s."

But critics aren’t sure if his order will still be binding once he leaves office in 2010 and predict possible legal challenges.

“I don’t think [the executive order] will have nearly the effect that the bill would have, and I’m not quite sure it is legal,” said Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D) of Sacramento.

State law currently calls for generating 20 percent of electricity via renewables by 2010, but the Los Angeles Times claims the state is unlikely to hit that goal before 2013.

Environmental groups are urging Schwarzenegger to sign instead of veto. They say the necessary mechanisms and momentum are in place and would all be stalled by the different tactic.

“He says his order will accomplish the same thing, but it will throw all the parties back into an extended period of administration that just takes more time … and they will still have to face the same issues,” says Peter Miller of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We think this is the best opportunity to move the ball forward and urge him to sign.”

Several other observers say the episode spotlights the federal government’s inability to move forward with federal standards.

“The reason California and other states have to take the lead is that Washington has yet to pick up the ball and run with it,” says Bernadette Del Chiaro of Environment Now. “This veto battle would be moot of Congress would just pass a nationwide renewable energy mandate.”

The Obama administration has been slow on the uptake because of the national economy, says Dr. Nabil Nasr, director of the Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies (CIMS) at Rochester Institute of Technology and a member of the National Research Council Board on Manufacturing and Engineering Design. “That is partly why California needs to continue to take initiative on this.”

Opponents of the legislation include the California Manufacturers & Technology Association, the Independent Energy Producers Association, the California Farm Bureau Federation, and other business and trade organizations. Their fear is that the plan would restrict electricity supplies and drive up prices.

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