This afternoon, the 33 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard became law in California.

Governor Jerry Brown conducted a formal signing ceremony at the SunPower production facility at Flextronics in Milpitas, California to make it official. (Pics of ceremony courtesy of Shonda Ranson here.)

I spoke with Dan Adler, the President of CalCEF, the California Clean Energy Fund, about the milestone. Adler is uniquely qualified to discuss the matter, as he wrote the implementation rules for the last RPS while at the CPUC.

The bill Adler worked on originally called for 20 percent by 2017, but the California Public Utility Commission and other regulatory bodies accelerated those goals to be met by 2010. In fact, California’s three investor-owned utilities (IOUs) achieved 18 percent of 2010 retail electricity sales with renewable power.

"We are on track to hit our 20 percent target next year, despite widespread skepticism at the outset of the RPS, and the renewable energy industry continues to show dramatic growth potential," said Adler, adding, "We will soon be talking about the next goal -- 40 percent, 50 percent and beyond, bringing in the transport sector and improving efficiencies across the board -- and we can hit those targets, too."

The governor seems to agree with Adler. Earlier in the week, he told reporters, "I believe we can get to 40 percent, and I think we should."

Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) were in favor of the bill, while Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) was less enthusiastic "because [the bill] lacks adequate cost protection for our customers," according to PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles, as quoted in Platt's.

Those utilities -- always pulling for their customers.

“This bill establishes California as the national leader in clean energy,” said Democratic State Senator Joe Simitian, “improving the environment and stimulating the economy, while protecting ratepayers from excessive costs.” Simitian is the author of the bill.

The bill was approved in the legislature along mostly partisan lines. Supporters saw the measure as a boon to the environment and the economy while opponents saw it as stifling the economy.  

Now that the goal is established, how does California actually reach these ambitious standards? Will more variable renewable energy sources translate to more natural gas plants for back-up?

Note that about a third of California's renewable power comes from geothermal wells, "a surprisingly large but pretty static" source, in Adler's words.

In Adler's view, the state reached 18 percent through mostly ad hoc measures. The next ten percent will be brought on in a more deliberate and "targeted" fashion -- with projects sited and financed with better insight into transmission capacity and environmental roadblocks. Adler also saw cost-effective financing as imperative, as well as learning how we integrate new technology into a stable and reliable grid.

Adler summed it up: "It's certainly an important achievement. It keeps California in the game. It's necessary but it's not sufficient and it's not sufficient to meet the goals of AB32."

CalCEF invests in clean energy companies and develops market and policy tools to foster financial innovation and grow the clean energy landscape.

“California continues to be the U.S. policy leader when it comes to stimulating the adoption of renewable energy,” said Shawn Qu, CEO of Canadian Solar, one of the world’s largest solar module manufacturers. “If measures like the 33 percent renewable portfolio standard are successful on such a large scale, the federal government will be more likely to follow.”

Andrew Beebe, the Chief Commercial Officer of the world's largest supplier of solar modules, Suntech Power, had this to say: "A 33 percent renewable portfolio standard in the world's eighth largest economy sends a clear message: renewable technologies can provide reliable, cost-effective, and sustainable solutions for electricity generation. This strong commitment puts California on a clear path for creating more green jobs and achieving long-term energy security. In addition, it gives us the confidence to make greater investments in our California operations and American manufacturing that will help drive down the costs of solar electricity."