California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday signed an executive order that would speed up renewable energy development and require 33 percent of utilities' electrical power to come from renewable sources by 2020.

The governor is aiming to use Executive Order S-14-08 to compel two state agencies, the California Energy Commission and the Department of Fish and Game, to work more closely on dealing with conflicts between renewable energy developers and environmentalists over building power plants and transmission lines (see California Lukewarm to Sunrise Powerlink).

Schwarzenegger said he plans to work with the state Legislature on legislation that will make solar, wind and other renewable energy projects in other western states be eligible for meeting the new renewable energy mandate. The legislation would require all public and private utilities to meet the 33 percent mandate.

The state currently has a renewable energy mandate in place that requires investor-owned utilities to include 20 percent by 2010. The requirement is already making it difficult for utilities to meet the goal, which have scrambled to sign power-purchase agreements developers of solar, wind, geothermal and even ocean wave power plants.

"A solar farm in Victorville is being held up because of an [endangered] squirrel. I love squirrels. They have never seen squirrels, but they are worried that if squirrels come, then they need to set extra property aside," said Arnold Schwarzenegger during a press conference at OptiSolar's new solar panel manufacturing plant in Sacramento. "It's one of the unfortunate things that environmental regulations are holding up environmental progress."

Schwarzenegger has lined up California's Department of Fish and Game, the California Energy Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the federal Bureau of Land Management for singing a memorandum of understanding to speed up permitting processes.

The BLM, in particular, has been seen itself embroiled in fights over solar energy developments on the vast swath of land it manages in western United States. In July, the agency reversed a decision to stop accepting applications for solar projects after receiving loud complaints from solar companies and politicians (see BLM Lifts Moratorium on Public Land for Solar).

The idea of increasing the renewable energy mandate to 33 percent isn't new and was first recommended by state regulators in 2005 (see California Energy Commission timeline). But the proposal would cover only investor-owned utilities, which don't include municipal-owned or private utilities.

The California Air Resources Board, which is currently developing rules for carrying out the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, otherwise known as AB32, also is looking at setting that 33 percent requirement (see California Offers Plan to Clear the Air). The law aims to enact regulations that will reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions to the 1990 levels by 2020.

Schwarzenegger is using his executive order to get rid of what he sees as hurdles for reaching the 33 percent goal, such as battles over environmental protection. The California Energy Commission and the Department of Fish and Game will be working on streamlining the permitting process for building power plants and transmission lines.

Setting goals is one thing, but reaching them is quite another. California utilities such as Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison have announced numerous renewable energy deals over the past year, but whether these projects will deliver remains to be seen.

Since the state established its first renewable energy mandate in 2002, 12 percent of the renewable-energy contracts signed by publicly owned utilities have been canceled, the California Energy Commission said. Another 20 percent have been delayed (see States Tackle Green Energy Ballot Measures).

Just last month, PG&E's agreement to buy power from Finavera Renewals' proposed ocean wave energy project fell through when the California Public Utilities Commission rejected the project (see California Sinks Its First Wave Energy Project).

In 2007, nearly 13 percent of the electricity came from renewable sources, according to the California Energy Commission.

About half of the states in the country have renewable-energy mandates, which have pushed utilities to develop solar and wind projects, as well as to sign long-term contracts with companies that build and operate those types of power plants.

President-elect Barack Obama advocated for a national renewable energy mandate during his campaign.