New clean energy standards could raise utility costs for California and UCLA
UCLA utility costs are expected to increase in the short term as California moves toward more aggressive standards for renewable energy.
By Ramsey Ugarte
Originally published in Daily Bruin
On Thursday, the California State Senate voted in favor of a bill to require public and private utility companies to generate 33 percent of power from wind, solar and other renewable energy sources.
If approved by the Assembly, utilities would need to meet the standards set by the state by 2020.
“By creating a structure for renewable energy, it will level playing fields by hopefully driving the cost of renewables down to the price of coal,” said Stephanie Pincetl, the director of the UCLA Center for Sustainable Urban Systems.
In the near future, however, utility prices are expected to rise, said Nurit Katz, UCLA sustainability coordinator. UCLA is expected to absorb $59 million in utility costs next year, $13 million of which is purchased from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
LADWP is responsible for 10 percent of UCLA’s total power generation. If the bill passes, LADWP would be required to meet the 33 percent requirement.
The rest of UCLA’s power is generated by a cogeneration plant on campus. The plant draws most of its energy from natural gas, a non-renewable energy.
By generating 90 percent of its own energy, UCLA has more security against a rise in utility prices, Katz said.
UCLA’s plant will not have to adhere to state requirements. The cogeneration plant is not considered a utility company because it does not sell the energy it generates.
The school’s generation portfolio does not include a high percentage of renewables – only 7 to 8 percent of energy produced by the cogeneration plant is from renewable sources.
UCLA has no specific plan for developing more renewable energy sources. The school, however, aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
While UCLA supports increasing the use of renewable energy sources, developing renewable energy generators is hard within a strict budget climate, Katz said.
UCLA is currently focusing on cheap and effective means of emission reductions through energy efficiency and conservation means. The cogeneration plant, for example, has an efficient system to capture excess heat generated by natural gas. This energy is then used to power nearly 100 percent of the university’s heating and air conditioning, Katz said.
The campus has also changed to more efficient fluorescent lights.
Those who oppose the bill want to keep energy cheap, said Juan Matute, program director of the UCLA Program on Local Government Climate Action Policies. Renewable generation costs more than maintaining existing coal plants.
But after the initial investment to build a plant is made, sustaining renewable generation plants is relatively cheap.
“The wind is free, the sun is free,” Matute said.
Matute said a more diversified energy portfolio will buffer California against fluctuation in the cost of fossil fuels.
Published: Tuesday, March 01, 2011