Regulators at the California Air Resources Board (CARB) unanimously voted to increase that state’s renewable electricity standard (RES) to 33% by 2020 last week. The regulation applies to all entities that deliver power, including publicly owned utilities and investor-owned utilities.

The regulation creates a phased-in approach that establishes interim targets, calling for 20% of the state’s power to be procured from renewables by 2014, 24% by 2017, and 28% by 2019. Small power providers (selling less than 200,000 MWh per year) are only subject to recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

The action came after the Legislature failed last month to pass a bill that would have put such a standard into law; CARB and other groups said they will continue to press for that to happen.

Work to increase the state’s existing RES to 33% from the 20% requirement that ends this year followed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (R) Renewable Electricity Standard Executive Order signed in September last year. The goal of procuring 33% of the state’s energy from renewables was also a major measure in the Scoping Plan (adopted by CARB in December 2008) designed to help fulfill requirements of California’s climate change legislation (AB 32).

The new standard has come under much scrutiny. In late 2008, the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC)—a regulatory agency that advocated the RES along with the California Energy Commission—said that requirements to generate at least 33% of the state’s power with renewables could cost up to $60 billion.

Increasing the 2020 target to 33% would require about 40,000 GWh beyond what is needed for the 20% goal, a feat that could warrant “an infrastructure build-out on a scale and timeline perhaps unparalleled anywhere in the world,” the California PUC’s report said. The PUC estimated that by 2020 the state would have to build seven new major transmission lines, at a cost of $6.1 billion, to accommodate 15,900 MW of new capacity.

Sources: CARB, CPUC, POWERnews