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Governor puts his weight behind renewable energy

By Ben Lumpkin
Saturday July 28, 2001

Gov. Gray Davis made a brief appearance in Berkeley Friday to pledge his support for renewable energy sources as a way to stabilize California’s electricity prices and protect the environment.  

Davis told a a crowd of local environmental experts and advocates gathered at west Berkeley’s PowerLight Corporation – the nation’s leading manufacturer of commercial solar electric systems – that he is committed to seeing California increase the percent of its electricity derived from renewable sources (solar, wind, biomass and geothermal) from the current 12 percent to 17 percent by 2006.  

“What you see around you,” Davis said, gesturing at a number of PowerLight rooftop solar panels on display, “is green power. It is power generated by the environment that does not harm the environment. 

“I want to encourage all of you to put solar power on your house, on your office,” Davis added, pointing out that rebates available from the California Energy Commission will cover as much as 50 percent of the cost for installing a residential or commercial solar power system. 

Most in the crowd seemed encouraged by the governor’s apparent commitment to renewable energy Friday. 

“We’re glad that he’s here to back solar power, and we hope that it’s a step to making solar power possible in every city in the state of California,” said Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean. 

“We have big hopes. We’re glad to have him on board as a supporter of renewable energy,” said Peter Miller, a senior scientist for the Natural Resource Defense Council and a Berkeley resident. 

“This is the industry of the 21st century,” Miller said. “Global warming is real, and this is the solution right here.” 

Some, however, were disappointed that the governor did not make a stronger commitment to renewable energy sources like solar power. 

“The governor really had an opportunity today to show that he was leading the fight to create a clean energy future for the state of California. And I think, to a certain extent, he missed that opportunity,” said Robert A. Pérez, communications director for the California League of Conservation Voters. 

Pérez and others asked the governor Friday to make a commitment to support a bill being sponsored by state Sen. Byron Sher, D-Palo Alto, that would mandate that the state rely on renewable energy sources for 20 percent of its power needs by 2010. 

“Without a mandate, we’re never going to get there,” Pérez said. 

Davis seemed reluctant to embrace the idea of a mandate Friday, but told the environmentalists that he would get back to them with an answer within 30 days. 

“California has definitely been a leader in the nation as it relates to renewable energy sources,” Pérez said. “But, based on what’s been happening in the last 6 months to a year, it’s clear that we need to take bigger steps.” 

To date, nine states have passed legislation mandating specific increases in the use of renewable energy. Nevada approved a law last month requiring that renewable energy sales in the state increase from 2 percent of all energy sales (the current rate) to 15 percent of all energy sales by 2013. 

PowerLight officials had hoped to hear the governor pledge Friday to make more money available for a rebate program that partially reimburses private companies for large investments in solar power. While there is still state money available to subsidize residential installation of solar power systems, the money set aside to subsidize larger commercial investments in solar power was recently exhausted, said PowerLight Manager of Regulatory Affairs Kari Smith. 

IKEA, Hewlett-Packard and Alameda County are just a few of the entities who have put plans for major investments in solar power systems on hold until the state makes more money available to subsidize those investments, according to a statement released by PowerLight. 

Still, PowerLight CEO Tom Dinwoodie said Friday that, were it not for the approximately $2 million in California Energy Commission dollars invested in the company over the years, PowerLight might not exist today. 

“PowerLight is really a child of the California Energy Commission and the state of California,” Dinwoodie said.