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The Next Step Toward a Greener San Diego

Both of California's green propositions were defeated on Nov. 4, so where is the state headed to ensure it utilizes clean energy? SDSU backpack journalist Amanda Strouse has the story.

Both of California's green propositions were defeated on Nov. 4, so where is the state headed to ensure it utilizes clean energy? SDSU backpack journalist Amanda Strouse has the story. (story continues below)

Join KPBS for a special presentation of Envision San Diego, Change: Election 2008 , Thursday, November 20th at 8 p.m., on KPBS channel 11 simulcast on KPBS-HD.  We’ll explore what this election means for the future of the San Diego region and the nation.

Environmental organizations, utility companies and renewable energy firms worked together to defeat Proposition 7, but they all have different ideas about what the next step toward a greener San Diego should be.

California was one of two states to have energy policy propositions on the November ballot. Critics of Prop. 7 say that the state's clean energy mandate, which requires utility companies to obtain at least 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2010, is effective enough.

Quinn Laudenslager, project manager for Sullivan Solar Power in San Diego, a solar power design and build firm, says business had more than 300 percent growth last year, and they're expecting it to continue to increase over time.

He says he's relieved that the proposition failed because there doesn't need to be a legal push for more clean energy.

Laudenslager: There is nothing next that needs to happen, it is already happening. Solar is being installed faster than ever in the past.

Laudenslager says he'd support a proposition for better rebates for customers wanting to use solar, because it would increase the appeal to switching to solar power.

Private and commercial customers in California, as well as in many other states, can currently obtain rebates from the government for utilizing solar power. But state governments are considering decreasing the rebate amounts in these programs as a result of the high number of applicants.

Utilities companies are also adjusting to the green movement.

SDG&E has recently proposed constructing a 150-mile "energy superhighway" between the Imperial Valley and San Diego, called the Sunrise Powerlink, to transfer clean energy to help power San Diego.

The Sierra Club of California is opposed to this proposal, because SDG&E can get clean energy in San Diego and not have to use transmission lines that are prone to cause fires, says Richard Miller, the chair of the Sierra Club California.

Miller: The next step is for us to defeat the Sunrise Powerlink- the powerlink to nowhere. We shouldn't rely on electricity being transmitted across land.

Miller says SDG&E is the furthest behind out of all three major utility companies in California in achieving the 20 percent renewable energy source goal and SDG&E should model Pacific Gas & Electric's dedication to renewable energy.

In the next three years, PG&E, which serves northern and central California, plans to build the world's two largest solar farms and light approximately 239,000 homes using clean energy.

SDG&E spokesperson Christy Heiser says the utilities company made a proposal in July to invest $250 million in a solar project similar to PG&E's, but the plans must first go through the California Public Utilities Commission, which can be a lengthy process. She said it is hoping to begin the solar project in February.

She says SDG&E believes it's beneficial for utility companies to get energy from renewable sources, so that there's a balanced mix of resources. But SDG&E can only look at energy options within close proximity.

Heiser: The key is obtaining transmission lines to obtain resources that aren't near us. We're happy to tap into areas outside San Diego. 

SDG&E is currently delivering 6 percent of its energy from renewable resources, which leaves them one year to get to 14 percent. Heiser says the utilities company is doing everything it can to get to the 20 percent goal.

The company has also signed contracts with renewable energy providers and offers aid on how consumers can go green on its Web site, she says.

Dennis Williams, the public information officer for San Diego's Environmental Services Department, says SDG&E has worked with the city government in the past, but he isn't sure what they're going to do in the future.

Williams says that the city is always interested in energy conservation. He says the city will continue to upgrade its facilities and expand the green technology that it already utilizes, such as methane gas in the Miramar Landfill and the hydro plant in Point Loma.

But Miller says that the two most efficient clean energy sources are solar and wind power. He says San Diegans need to start asking SDG&E to get serious about renewable energy and come up with more efficient options.

Miller: Their solution has always been, 'We'll get it from somewhere else.' They need to generate the energy here locally.

  Amanda Strouse is a senior in the School of Journalism and Media Studies at SDSU.