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California Renewable Energy: Can The Golden State Retake Its Lead? (VIDEO)

Wind Farm

First Posted: 06/01/11 04:45 PM ET Updated: 08/01/11 06:12 AM ET

When it comes to wind power, California lags behind some unlikely competitors: Texas and Iowa. Both of those states, despite their less "green friendly" images, use more megawatts of wind power to generate electricity.

That could soon change, however, with California's new renewables portfolio standard (RPS), signed into law on April 12 by Governor Jerry Brown. The RPS mandates that California get 33 percent of its power from renewable energy sources like wind and solar power by the year 2020, and no other state pushes for such an aggressive target on such a short timeline.

The Golden State's goal is possible, according to Ryan Wiser, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. But it's ambitious.

"It's definitely a tough target," Wiser told HuffPost. All the same, Wiser said, "I'm quite confident that we'll make very good progress towards the 33 percent standard, and we may even achieve it."

One of the biggest unanswered questions? How much economic activity this goal will create within the state, based on how many wind farms and solar power arrays are designed, manufactured and placed inside California's borders. Utilities will be allowed to purchase power from across state lines, and turbine or solar manufacturers may decide to place their plants in states where growing a manufacturing business is easier.

Governor Brown chose to sign the renewables portfolio standard law at a solar panel manufacturing plant, citing the law's potential for "stimulating investment in green technologies in the state, creating tens of thousands of new jobs." The law's author, state Sen. Joe Simitian (D), claims it could create between 100,000 and 200,000 jobs.

Other states, however, may also be able to capture some of the renewable energy market. Even places as far away as Montana are excited about the potential to supply California with some of its power. The rules are complicated, but the law mandates that by 2017, 75 percent of renewable energy credits come "from in-state or in-state equivalent products," according to law firm Davis Wright Tremaine.

"At the present time there is still quite a lot of uncertainty as to the relative viability of out-of-state renewables as opposed to in-state renewables," Wiser said.

Much will depend on how quickly California builds transmission lines to connect solar and wind power in remote locales like the desert, how easily those projects can attain the necessary permits and how strictly the new renewables standard is enforced. Complaints about costs could slow the rise of renewables; for example, the state's Public Utilities Commission estimated in 2009 that a 33 percent energy standard could raise prices by 7.1 percent.

Take a look at Don Furman, senior vice president of external affairs for Iberdrola Renewables, explain how his company responds to the new standards below. Iberdrola is the largest wind energy producer in the world and plans to build a 200-megawatt wind farm near San Diego.

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