California’s Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday signed an executive order to clear the red tape for renewable projects and streamline permitting and siting of new plants and transmission lines. The order will speed up that state’s adoption of a mandate to supply 33% of its power from renewable sources by 2020, Schwarzenegger said.

California already leads the nation with its current renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which requires 20% of the state’s electricity to be generated by renewable sources by 2010—though, as POWERnews reported last week, the California Pubic Utilities Commission (CPUC) has conceded that the utilities will not meet that goal until 2013.

The state legislature must still pass the new goal into law. The governor said he would propose legislative language that will codify the new higher standards and “require all utilities, public and private, to meet the 33% target and spread implementation costs across all ratepayers with safeguards for low-income customers.”

“I am proposing we set the most aggressive target in the nation for renewable energy—33% by the year 2020—that’s a third of our energy from sources like solar, wind and geothermal,” Schwarzenegger said. “But we won’t meet that goal doing business as usual, where environmental regulations are holding up environmental progress in some cases.”

The executive order requires state agencies to create comprehensive plans to prioritize regional renewable projects based on an area’s renewable resource potential to begin preparing for the new 33% target. Documents from the governor’s office revealed that the order’s goal was to cut permitting processing times in half.

On Monday, the California Energy Commission and the Department of Fish and Game signed a memorandum of understanding formalizing a Renewable Energy Action Team. The two state agencies plan to create a “one-stop” permitting process, which is to be achieved through a streamlining unit that will concurrently review permit applications filed at the state level. The agencies also signed an agreement with federal bodies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management to expedite the permitting process.

“This coordinated approach will significantly reduce the time and expense for developing renewable energy on federally owned California land, including the priority Mojave and Colorado Desert regions,” a statement from the governor’s office said.

According to a CPUC report (PDF) released earlier this month that analyzed the factors that could hinder achievement of a 33% by 2020 RPS, construction of new renewable capacity will have to increase dramatically—and quickly. Since the CPUC anticipates that investor-owned utilities will reach the current 20% target in or around 2013, it projects that the 33% by 2020 RPS would only be reached if utilities increased renewable generation by about 68% in about seven years.

This would require 70,000 GWh of new renewable energy in 2020, in addition to the 31,000 GWh of generation from renewables in existence today. Additionally, the state would need to build seven major transmission lines at a cost of $6.4 billion.

But, as a June 2008 status report (PDF) compiled by the CPUC shows, utilities are already struggling to meet the current 20% goal. As of 2007, all three major California utilities—Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E)—showed decreases in RPS generation. Only 11.4% of PG&E’s bundled sales were produced from renewable sources; SCE’s fared slightly better, at 15.7%; SDG&E’s were far worse, with renewable power making up only 5.2% of that utility’s bundled sales.

Sources: California Office of the Governor, POWERnews, CPUC