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SDG&E Falls Far Short Of Green-Energy Goal

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SDG&E is last among California's major utilities in efforts to produce energy from non-polluting sources.

Electricity accounts for nearly half of greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States. California required power companies to produce 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2010. San Diego Gas & Electric fell far short.

The utility blames factors outside of its control for part of its failure to meet the 20-percent deadline at the end of December.

The company says a bad wind year across the Western U.S. and poor power production by hydroelectric plants contributed to the failure to meet the target.

SDG&E reported getting only 12 percent from renewable sources at the close of 2010. That puts the company last among California's major utilities for power from sources that don't pollute. Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison are at 18 and 19 percent respectively.

"Frankly, I think SDG&E can do better," said David Allgood. He is the Southern California director of the California League of Conservation Voters.

Allgood said SDG&E must comply with the law and do its part to clean the air.

"Dirtier forms of energy sicken and kill people. And I think they have a moral responsibility to protect their ratepayers and people around their facilities," Allgood said.

It's the job of the California Public Utilities Commission to make sure the state's power companies meet the 20-percent mandate. Commission President Michael Peevey called SDG&E's progress disappointing.

"They fell way short of what we'd hoped would be achieved by that date," Peevey said.

SDG&E representatives refused to grant an interview. In a response to written questions, the company cited contracts for future clean-energy delivery. Notably, the utility announced recently a contract to generate enough solar power by the end of 2012 to power 315,000 homes at peak capacity. That project, once built,could take SDG&E to about 17 percent.

But critics say contracts alone are not guarantees that renewable projects will ever be built.

They say the 20-percent mandate allows power companies to only buy clean energy at a price equal to a gas-fired plant. Since many green energy companies are new and lack the capital of fossil-fuel firms, they usually can't beat the price of a gas-fired plant. Among contracts signed to deliver alternative energy, at least 30 percent are either delayed or fail to get built, according to the state Department of Ratepayer Advocates.

Still, John White, executive director at the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies, said

SDG&E could have been more aggressive about generating cleaner electricity.

White said the California Public Utilities Commission should impose penalties for not meeting the 20-percent requirement.

"A penalty at the end of the day is very controversial because utilities whine and scream bloody murder and say you can't do this, this is going to affect our stock price, and blah, blah, blah," White said. "But in the end there has to be some way of getting their attention."

But when it comes to the PUC, a deadline does not mean much. Its "flexible compliance rules" allow a grace period for the 20-percent target to 2013.

PUC President Michael Peevey said he's certain SDG&E will be in compliance with the "20-percent mandate by 2010" ... by 2013.

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