Even though California utilities have been spending billions of dollars pushing renewables and energy efficiency while preparing for stringent greenhouse gas (GHG) emission restrictions that start in 2012, a host of legislative proposals dealing with all of those energy issues and more were kicked around in an all-day meeting Tuesday of the state Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee. Most of the proposals among an agenda packed with 34 items were passed after being amended with agreement from their authors.

Meanwhile, the state lawmakers seemed unconcerned about another day that passed without the state legislature and the governor resolving how to close a $26 billion budget deficit and bring an end to the state employee furlough days (three/month) and IOUs that California is using to pay tens of thousands of vendors. Even that, however, has a tie to the energy sector as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is pushing hard to reinvigorate a long-standing proposed reorganization of state government, including merging most of its various agencies with energy duties into one Cabinet-level energy department.

A veteran energy lobbyist in Sacramento told NGI that passage of some version of the governor’s reorganization plan is “definitely a possibility” at this point in the legislative session that ends in September. “The governor has pushed for the various reorganization proposals as part of the budget process including the energy reorganization, and he reiterated the need for the reorganization in a recent letter outlining what must be included in any renewable portfolio standard [RPS] bill to get his signature,” the lobbyist said.

The same Sacramento veteran, who attended Tuesday’s Senate energy committee meeting, said the legislature definitely has a “full plate” when it comes to energy proposals at this time, despite the unresolved budget issues. He does not think the budget situation is going to affect the energy proposals this year.

“In listening to the debates, it doesn’t appear as if members believe there is any reason to withhold moving energy proposals forward,” the lobbyist said.

Among the many legislative proposals voted on was a renewable bill (AB 560) to raise the limit on the amount of net metering permitted for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems’ excess power; it passed on a 9-1 vote by the 11-member committee, but not without a lot of discussion and comments led by a legislative veteran and former energy committee chair, Roderick Wright from Los Angeles.

Coming into the hearing, the bill stirred a lot of debate, pitting the state’s major investor-owned utilities against solar and regulatory advocates. An amendment lowering the proposed increased cap to 5% from 10% caused at least two of the major utilities to change their positions from opposition to support of the measure.

At the end of June the CPUC released its first annual report on the state’s ongoing 10-year solar push, called the California Solar Initiative, concluding that “steady progress” has been made, and that the current economic downturn does not appear to be dampening the demand among homeowners and small businesses to install their own solar PV systems. One of three specific recommendations in the report is to raise the net metering limits.

While eventually supporting the measure, Wright said net metering for residential solar systems really provides no overall benefit to the system other than in an energy efficiency sense, and it should be valued in that narrow context — not as energy on the grid system.

Other bills dealt with further fine-tuning of the state’s renewable and energy efficiency programs, such as a proposal to create feed-in tariffs (AB 1106), and amended versions of several of the measures were passed and send on through the legislative process. One bill that would revise aspects of the state renewable goals leading up to a 33% renewable requirement by the end of 2020 (AB 64) was sent back to the Senate Rules Committee for further clarification.

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