SACRAMENTO- After vowing to veto this year's biggest environmental bill, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to issue an executive order by midweek that would require all electric utilities to generate a third of their power from renewable resources, such as wind and solar power, by 2020.
The order presumably would set no limit on how much of the green power could be imported from other states.
Environmentalists who have been told about the governor's still-evolving plans said Schwarzenegger also was considering directing the California Air Resources Board to look at broadening the state's definition of renewable energy sources to include large hydroelectric dams and nuclear energy plants.
Critics questioned whether Schwarzenegger's order would be binding once he leaves office at the end of 2010. The validity of the order would be subject to a variety of potential legal challenges, they predicted.
"I don't think it will have nearly the effect that the bill would have, and I'm not quite sure it is legal," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).
A spokesman for the governor confirmed that he would sign the executive order sometime this week but declined to provide details.
On Saturday, hours after the end of the 2009 legislative session, Matt David, the governor's communications director, said the governor would veto a pair of bills passed by the Legislature that would order electric utilities to get at least 33% of their power from renewable sources by 2020 -- and with limits on how much could be imported from outside the state.
State law currently calls for generating 20% by 2010, a deadline that the utilities are unlikely to hit before 2013.
"The poorly drafted, overly complex bills passed by the Legislature are protectionist schemes that will kill the solar industry in California and drive prices up like the failed energy deregulation of the late 1990s," David said.
The bills, SB 14 by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) and AB 64 by Assemblyman Paul Krekorian (D-Burbank), were introduced this year to respond to a call from Schwarzenegger for legislative action to increase production of renewable energy in California.
The legislation was supported by environmental groups, consumer advocates, labor unions and some major utilities, including Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Sempra Energy and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Raising the renewable energy requirement, they argued, would send a strong message to industry that California is serious about combating global warming, improving air quality and reducing reliance on foreign fossil fuels.
Unions and consumer groups also backed a provision in the bills that would require at least two-thirds of renewable energy be generated in-state to ensure that high-paying green jobs are created for California workers.
Among the opponents were the California Manufacturers & Technology Assn., the Independent Energy Producers Assn., the California Farm Bureau Federation and other business and trade organizations.
They feared that limiting California utilities' use of energy credits in buying renewable energy from out-of-state generators would restrict electricity supplies and drive up prices.
Schwarzenegger, in a letter to lawmakers in May, said he opposed any limitations on imports of green power.
The governor's order, which could be buttressed by a future bill, has sufficient legal teeth to get the Air Resources Board to write tough renewable standards under the authority of AB 32, California's landmark law to curb global warming, said Jan Smutny-Jones, executive director of the Independent Energy Producers Assn.
"My sense is that a future governor most likely will support moving forward with this," he said.