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Solar photovoltaic panels generate electricity at an Exelon solar power facility.
While energy experts and others debate the value of the Keystone pipeline, fracking, and off-shore drilling, California is moving quickly to create an entirely different energy paradigm. Solar energy is quickly emerging as the most-reliable and cost-efficient (long-term) source for replacing oil.
To be sure, oil will always be needed for certain uses, but in California, solar is on the verge of becoming a major player as a source for electricity.
In 2011, California produced 259 megawatts of solar energy (one megawatt is enough to power 200 homes). New Jersey was second with 137 megawatts, followed by Nevada and Arizona with 61 megawatts and 54 megawatts respectively. But this is just the beginning.
Currently, California has more than 20 solar energy projects in the works in the Mojave Desert alone. When all go online, they will produce close to 9,400 megawatts of energy, enough to power nearly 1,900,000 homes.
That represents a significant change in the state's energy sources.
Why the rush? The answer lies with the state's ambitious effort to end dependence on fossil fuels.
As part of the California Renewables Portfolio Standard Act of 2002, the state required the three major utility companies to obtain 20 percent of their energy from non-fossil sources by 2010. Two of the state's major utilities, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric, didn't make it but they got close; San Diego Gas and Electric was a major laggard.
Last year, the legislature increased the state's commitment to alternative energy to 35 percent by 2020. Wind farms, biofuels, geothermal, and hydroelectric are part of the non-fossil mix, but most of the effort is going to solar energy, which has been supported by federally guaranteed loans.
There are a couple of downsides here, to be sure. For one, energy costs more in California than almost any other state because of the costs associated with ramping up infrastructure components like solar energy facilities, even with federal loan guarantees. Second, some environmentalists wince at the losses of animal life and plant species in the Mojave Desert as that part of the state is transformed into an energy-producing juggernaut.
Still, California is now moving on the alternative energy front to an extent simply not duplicated anywhere else in the nation. Yes, there are disappointments like Solyndra, but the long-term alternative energy picture is bright for the state.