California’s renewable energy mandate is one of the most ambitious in the country. By 2020, state utilities have been ordered to generate at least 33% of their electricity from clean power sources.

This mandate is ambitious – but also very achievable.

SDG&E has basically already reached its goal 6 years early. SCE and PG&E aren’t far behind.

This is partially why Gov. Brown has called for an even higher renewable energy mandate. By 2030, he wants the state to generate at least 50% of its electricity from green power sources.

Not surprisingly, California utilities aren’t very happy about this increase. Bringing on additional renewable energy capacity will require more investments, more spending, and more development.

In fact, utility companies are so unhappy with this new mandate that they are trying to alter the definition of “utility-supplied” renewable energy.

What Power Do California Utilities Actually Provide?

Under current rules, state regulators define utility power as any electricity that is directly generated from sources owned and/or operated by California utilities. When talking about renewable energy, this usually means mega solar farms and huge wind power installations in the middle of the desert.

But at a recent investor meeting, the CEO of SCE, Ted Craver, called for an overhaul of how utility-generated renewable energy should be defined. In addition to projects that are directly financed by power companies, utilities should also receive credit for residential and commercial rooftop solar installations as well. These PV systems rely on the grid, and thus, they should be included when state regulators assess how “green” the utility grid truly is.

The question is, should this inclusion be allowed?

On the one hand, the utility companies do have a point. Very few solar PV installations in California work in isolation. Thanks to net metering, our state benefits from a distributed network of mini power stations – all of which feed clean energy into the electricity grid.

But changing the definition violates the spirit of California’s renewable energy mandate. The 33% and 50% targets are designed to encourage more utility-scale investments in green power.

Changing the definition simply moves the goal line to that utilities can meet their targets based on a technicality.

We personally feel that the current definition should remain. Utilities should do everything in their power to green their infrastructure. Any residential or commercial solar capacity is icing on the cake.

And when you think about it, this approach is better for everyone:

  • The grid becomes more reliable
  • Power becomes much cheaper
  • California becomes much cleaner
  • The state creates more green jobs

We hope that regulators don’t change these definitions. Utilities should be responsible for a 50% (or more) greening of the grid. And let distributed solar power take care of the rest.