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State panel OKs push to meet energy goals

Times Staff Writer

The California Energy Commission on Wednesday approved an aggressive plan to fund research and push the use of 10 alternative fuels -- a step considered crucial to the state’s twin goals of cutting its dependence on petroleum and sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The plan recommends that the statewide use of alternative fuels grow to 9% in five years, 11% in 10 years and 26% in 15 years. The targets apply to fuels used by trucks and cars as well as construction and agricultural vehicles but does not incorporate fuel used by planes, trains or boats.

The extensive plan “lays out a strategy to get us toward our goals, and it shows us that there are cost-effective ways to reach those goals,” said Luke Tonachel, a fuel expert at environmental protection group Natural Resources Defense Council.

If the plan’s goals were met, California would eliminate the use of more than 4 billion gallons of gasoline by 2020 -- about a quarter of what state residents used last year. In addition, alternative fuels would provide more than half the energy needed to power cars and trucks.

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Tonachel called the plan “significant,” though his organization objects to a coal-derived fuel included among the commission’s 10 alternatives.

“This really is the hub. This is where it all comes together,” Energy Commissioner John Geesman said of the 107-page document. “You will find everything in here, and then some, as it relates to nonpetroleum fuels.”

According to the plan, reducing pollution and petroleum use would require significant state and federal incentives, major infrastructure investment, policy changes that include increasing fuel-efficiency standards, and an unspecified amount of funding from the industry. The plan recommends that the state spend as much as $200 million a year on research.

The plan includes a preliminary analysis of the carbon content of various petroleum alternatives, taking into account how each fuel is produced and delivered. That information lays the groundwork for California’s new low-carbon fuel standard, which requires a 10% reduction in the carbon intensity of fuels used in the state by 2020.

“I think it sends a signal to the market -- and it sends a signal to the rest of the nation -- that we’re very serious about alternative fuels, and not just ethanol,” said Claudia Chandler, a commission spokeswoman.

In addition to ethanol, already blended into gasoline, the state fuel plan listed such alternative transportation fuels as biodiesel, hydrogen, natural gas, synthetics and electricity. The document is designed to be regularly updated to incorporate new information about the fuels and costs as they develop.

“We’re not unhappy with this at all because we believe in fuel diversity,” said Joe Sparano, president of the industry trade group Western States Petroleum Assn.

“But we’re concerned that if we don’t make the goals of this plan [to increase use of alternative fuels], and at the same time people are trying to reduce petroleum use, it could leave some big gaps in supply.”

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The plan was devised jointly with the California Air Resources Board, which will vote on it next month.

elizabeth.douglass @latimes.com


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