Once ahead of the game, Glendale has turned its focus from future gains in renewable energy to meeting more short-term state deadlines that it may, in the end, just eke through.
All California public utilities must get 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2013, and then 33% by 2020.
As of 2011, Glendale Water & Power was well on its way to meeting the benchmarks, logging a 24% renewable rate at one point. In fact, it was doing so well that it decided to sell some of its renewable energy credits to Pasadena for $5.5 million.
The problem is, at the time, the city didn't realize that the 2013 requirement would be an average of three years: 2011, 2012 and 2013. The utility hit 20% last year, and although it's at roughly the same rate as of now, officials won't know the final tally for 2012 until the month is over. Neither energy use, nor renewable products, like wind, are constants.
The amount of energy to be used in 2013 is also unknown, but Glendale Water & Power is doing all it can to make sure it meets the 20% mark then, too.
Utility officials plan to buy the renewable energy through short-term energy market purchases to keep its renewable portfolio — which includes, wind, solar and landfill gas — at 20% through the end of the first compliance period. That's a change from a greater focus on developing renewable projects and getting ahead of deadlines.
“Given that our [capital improvement plan] was cut to almost nothing, we decided that, for the short term, we should just focus on compliance,” said Glendale Water & Power Assistant General Manager Steve Lins at a City Hall meeting this week.
The about-face comes as Glendale Water & Power has limited its spending in the midst of organizational changes and funding shortfalls.
Earlier this year, the utility pulled out of a Nevada solar plant because it was too expensive.
Glendale, along with Burbank and other cities in a Southern California utility network, also dropped a large solar tower project in Arizona that has been beset with development delays. Last year, officials said the Arizona project could have pushed Glendale's renewable share to 33% — well ahead of the state deadline.
After 2013, utility officials will spend more time reviewing long-term projects, Lins said. The City Council is set to vote on the renewable energy procurement plan next week.
With state mandates, often, the last 10% or 15% are the toughest and most expensive to grasp, said Glendale Water & Power General Manager Steve Zurn.
If Glendale can't make the compliance deadlines, Lins said state rules include a way to avoid steep fines if there are circumstances beyond the utility's control that prevent it from meeting the mandates. Fines range from $1,000 to $75,000 per day.
Some Glendale Water & Power commissioners, though, didn't like that idea.
“I'm hoping we're not looking at an escape clause,” said Commissioner Deborah Dentler.