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Brown, Chu Tout California Renewables Law

By Gretchen Weber, KQED ClimateWatch

Solar panels in New Mexico. Credit: istock.

California’s utilities now have their marching orders: to provide one third of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Now that the "33-by-20" target is a mandate backed by state law, supporters say it will lure more renewable energy investments to California. There's evidence that it already is.

Calling it a “breakthrough,” Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law at the dedication of a new SunPower Corp. manufacturing plant in Milpitas, near San Jose. And he laid down a challenge:

"Last year six thousand megawatts of solar installations were produced by China and one thousand by the United States. Now, are we up for changing that? I think we are."

Supporters say the 33 percent requirement provides a stable market for renewable energy, while critics fear it will mean higher electric bills. A statement from the California Republican Party said:

Governor Brown is pressing ahead as if the pieces of papers he signs magically and automatically result in higher revenues or a better standard of living. The laws of economics, however, overrule Brown’s political laws.

Magical or not, the law has appeared to conjure up federal dollars for the state. Energy Secretary Steven Chu seized the occasion to announce $50 million in federal funding for renewables in California, and nearly $3 billion in loan guarantees for two big projects.

“Thanks to forward looking policies and forward-looking businesses, California will be the center of the action in helping the United States in building a bright energy future,” said Chu at the signing.

Part of that bright energy future includes SunPower’s brand new plant in Milpitas, which is expected to employ about 100 people.

President Obama has pledged to double the nation’s renewable power output by 2035.

Gretchen Weber is a multimedia producer with KQED ClimateWatch, a Climate Central content partner.

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