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California May Credit Big Hydro Power to Green Energy Goal

California, the second-largest U.S. hydroelectric producer, would count large water projects toward its goal of having renewable resources supply a third of its power under a bill approved by an Assembly committee.

The measure would remove a limitation that now counts only smaller hydropower projects, capable of producing 30 megawatts or less, to qualify toward California’s renewable portfolio standard. The biggest U.S. state by population, which consumed 8.5 percent of the nation’s energy in 2009, generated 13.2 percent of U.S. hydroelectric power, second only to Washington State, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

California adopted a formal target for renewable energy sources, such as solar and water, in 2002 and expanded it last year to require investor-owned utilities to generate 33 percent of their power from such sources by 2020.

Environmental advocates and state Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat, said allowing the large hydroelectric projects to count toward the renewable goal would uproot the purpose of the rule. Skinner said utilities could build giant hydroelectric facilities in neighboring states and Canada, then export the power back to California.

“We would primarily be subsidizing hydroelectric out of state,” Skinner told the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce yesterday.

The Democrat-dominated committee approved the bill 8-1.

Sierra Club Opposes

Backers include the California Chamber of Commerce and the Association of California Water Agencies, according to a bill analysis, while opponents include the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.

Skinner said the bill would benefit Vancouver, Canada-based British Columbia Hydro & Power Authority, a utility owned by the province. California sued a subsidiary of BC Hydro, Powerex Corp., in 2005, accusing the company of inflating power costs to California during the state’s 2001 energy crisis. Greg Alexis, a BC Hydro spokesman, didn’t immediately respond to a telephone call requesting comment.

Assemblyman David Valadao, the Hanford Republican who sponsored the legislation, received campaign contributions of $7,800 in 2010 from Pacific Gas & Electric Co., a unit of PG&E Corp., California’s largest utility.

That amount tied it for second place among his largest contributors, according to data compiled by the National Institute for Money in State Politics. Valadao didn’t immediately respond to a telephone call seeking comment.

San Francisco-based PG&E said 19.4 percent of its power in 2011 came from renewable sources. Lynsey Paulo, a spokeswoman, said the company had no formal position on Valadao’s bill.

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