California Hits 20% Renewables; Next Stop, 25% In 2016

California made it official on Tuesday, reporting that the its investor-owned utilities – who provide about three-quarters of the electricity used by the state’s nearly 38 million residents – reached a renewable portfolio standard target of 20 percent green power in 2011.

The California Public Utilities Commission said Southern California Edison led the way with 21.1 percent renewables, followed closely by San Diego Gas & Electric at 20.8 percent and Pacific Gas and Electric at 20.1 percent.

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The state’s original RPS, instituted in 2002, required the three utilities to increase the amount of renewable generation sold to customers by at least 1 percent each year and be at 20 percent by 2017. In 2006, the standard was strengthened, requiring 20 percent by 2010. Then last year, with the utilities lagging in reaching that goal – combined, they delivered 17 percent of their power from renewables in 2010 – the RPS was tweaked again. The big three are now required to source an average of 20 percent renewables per year from January 1, 2011, to December 31, 2013; 25 percent by December 31, 2016; and 33 percent by December 31, 2020.

SDG&E had the greatest ground to cover in getting to 20 percent; according to state data [XLS], it was at 3.7 percent renewables in 2003 and even as recently as 2010 was still a long way from 20 percent, at 11.9 percent.

But in 2011, SDG&E signed 17 new power contracts with mostly solar and wind energy sources, representing 1,482 megawatts. The company not only hit the current target, but said those contracts would help put it on track to meet the 2016 and 2020 goals.

SCE was at a surprisingly robust 16.6 percent in 2003, mostly because of big power purchases from the San Gorgonio Pass wind farms and from geothermal generation in Northern California. PG&E was at 11.5 percent back in 2003.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.