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California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law today requiring power companies to generate 33 percent of all electricity from renewable energy sources like wind and solar power by 2020.
The new law is a major incentive for clean technology companies in the state to begin ramping up their production of clean energy sources. Previous laws required power companies to fill 20 percent of their output with renewable energy sources by 2010 with a 3-year grace period.
Interest in cheaper, cleaner energy has focused recently on solar power because of innovations in increasing the amount of sunlight a single photovoltaic cell can capture. Most wafer-style cells today are around 6 inches across and capture 30 percent of the sunlight shining on them and convert it to electricity. There are also more flexible thin-film panels that can be placed on more surfaces but are less efficient at capturing sunlight. But both types of power have attracted a lot of investing interest from companies like General Electric and Google. Individual wafer-style solar panels can usually generate around a watt of power.
Wind turbines typically carry large capital costs — meaning the upfront cost of building and operating a turbine will take a long time to break even with the money saved by using wind power. Most wind turbines generate anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 megawatts of power, and the costs vary from state to state. For example, wind power turbine manufacturer First Wind has a 30-megawatt wind farm in Hawaii that cost $125 million to build and a 57-megawatt wind farm in Maine that cost $140 million to make. Wind power only accounts for around 2 percent of all power generated in the U.S.
In California, concerns about the impact of nearby wind turbines on property values has led to a “not-in-my-backyard” complaint about the renewable energy source. The power source is much more popular in states like Texas, which boasts 10,085 megawatts, nearly triple the next closest competitor. So far, there are still around 10.4 million megawatts that can be generated by onshore wind farms, according to the American Wind Energy Association.