Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Million Solar Roofs Update - Bill Unanimously Passes CA Senate Committee

As Renewable Energy Access (REA) reports, California's solar industry continues to eek out gradual but notable victories this week in the state Senate where solar legislation hasn't historically fared so well.

On Tuesday, the reincarnated Million Solar Roofs bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, passed the Senate Energy Committee with a unanimous vote from all nine Democrats and Republicans present. The bill now moves to the Senate Floor for a final concurrence vote before heading to the governor's desk, REA reports.

At the end of June, the reincarnated SB 1 passed the state Assembly with strong support on a 43 to 15 vote [previous post].

The Million Solar Roofs bill, SB 1, contains three main policies intended to accompany the California Solar Initiative (CSI) established by the Public Utilities Commission through a regulatory proceeding in January, after SB 1 ran aground in the legislature last year.

The complementary CSI is a $3.2 billion fund providing rebates for a million solar roofs in Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) territories. The program is the nation's largest and aims to build 3,000 MW of solar power - the equivalent of six large power plants - on homes, businesses, farms and schools throughout the state.

The policies contained in SB 1 include:

  • 1. Lift the cap on net metering enabling consumers to receive a credit on their electric bill for excess energy generated by their solar system. The current cap is 0.5% of a utility's total load. SB 1 would lift this cap to 2.5%. An estimated 5% is needed to build a million solar roofs in California.

  • 2. Mandate that all homebuilders, beginning in 2011, make solar panels a standard option for homebuyers, just like marble countertops. The bill would also direct the California Energy Commission to convene a proceeding to determine if and when solar power should become a standard feature of new construction.

  • 3. Sets a goal that California's municipal utilities, such as Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Sacramento Municipal Utility District, adopt their own solar rebate program totaling $800 million. The Public Utilities Commission does not have legal authority over the municipal utilities, so legislation is needed to create a statewide solar rebate program. However, in creating this goal, SB 1 would remove $800 million from the California Solar Initiative originally earmarked for customers in PG&E, Edison and SDG&E territories, covering 80% of the state's electricity customers.

  • Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate for Environment California, says the bill allows California to take a step forward toward realizing the goal of building a million solar roofs and making California the "Saudi Arabia of the sun."

    That being said, however, she was not pleased that including municipalities in the arrangement forced the overall funds to be shifted.

    "By rolling back the California Solar Initiative by $800 million, SB 1 takes an unnecessary and unfortunate step backward," said Del Chiaro. "The responsibility for achieving the state's solar vision now rests heavily on the shoulders of Mayor Villaraigosa and the LADWP to make sure Los Angeles builds their share of the million solar roofs goal."

    The hearing was held at the request of the chair, Senator Escutia, and other members of the committee given the significant changes made to the bill since the Committee passed the bill last year. The members who voted to approve SB 1 Tuesday were Senators Alarcon, Battin, Bowen, Cox, Dunn, Duttin, Escutia and Kehoe.

    Jan McFarland, Executive Director of Americans for Solar Power (ASPv) and the PV Manufacturers Alliance (PVMA), says the bill could return to the Senate floor for its last required vote as early as Thursday, August 10. She says the measure is expected to pass this final Senate vote given strong support for the bill.

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