Post-2020 RPS 'unlikely' for California

California is unlikely to adopt a Renewable Portfolio Standard for the years beyond 2020, with policymakers instead leaning towards a carbon standard set to tighten over time, claims the new commissioner of the California Public Utilities Commission.

What California will do after 2020, when its existing 33% RPS runs out, remains an open question.

Many in the renewables industry, and indeed many California politicians, would like to see the Golden State's RPS increased and extended – with 50% by 2030 a commonly mooted goal.

But Michael Picker, named commissioner of the powerful California Public Utilities Commission in January, believes the state will not ultimately move in that direction.

Before taking his job in January, Picker acted as a key renewables adviser to both current Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

“We’ve substantially filled our RPS goals [for 2020], and at the prices that we’re seeing, RPS is probably not the way we’ll actually procure in the future for our energy needs,” claims Picker. “I think it will actually be a declining carbon standard.”

Such a standard would still support wind and solar energy, but Picker suggests that the post-2020 landscape will likely be friendlier to a “broader range” of low-carbon technologies than are currently supported. “The list of renewables we allow to compete in the RPS is somewhat arbitrary [at present].”

Picker says that in any scenario natural gas will play an important role in California’s energy future, and should not be seen as “oppositional” to renewables.

The use of gas on a “limited” basis for peaker plants will “actually enable the penetration of more renewables into a competitive market”, said Picker, speaking Wednesday at the Renewable Energy Finance Forum in New York.

The speed with which California has got on track – and then significantly overshot – the trajectory required to meet its 2020 RPS has caught almost everyone off guard, he says.

Just five years ago “we were so concerned about meeting [the RPS] challenge that I don’t think we actually planned on success”.

“Now we’re hurriedly trying to make sense of the world and figure out what the system is under which we can live and operate”.