Net Metering Bill Stalls in California Legislature, RPS Target Increased

The 2009 California legislative session ended last Friday without passing AB 560, which would have raised the state’s limit on net metering for solar energy systems. Under current California law, the state’s major electric utilities are required to make net metering available to customers until the total program capacity exceeds 2.5% of the utility’s peak demand. AB 560 would have doubled the net metering program capacity to 5%.

Without an increase in the cap, parts of California, most notably in PG&E’s service territory, may receive enough applications to hit the current cap as early as 2010 according to estimates from solar advocacy groups. Today nearly 50,000 homeowners and hundreds of businesses rely on California’s net metering program to reduce their electric bills.

“Net metering means two things: it means energy bill savings when a consumer goes solar, and it means local green jobs. It is not an optional policy if California wants to continue building a new energy economy. We saw the state’s rooftop solar market double in size last year alone. The looming net metering cap would likely stamp the brakes on further growth early next year. That’s a lot of jobs, savings and environmental benefits at risk at a time when California frankly can not afford it, “said Sara Birmingham, director of Western Solar Policy for the Solar Alliance.

Despite widespread support, the bill’s progress was slowed in the final days of the 2009 legislative session by the late introduction of an amendment on the ancillary contractor certification issues which California produced a conflict between labor groups. With labor interests on both sides of the issue, time ran out on the legislation, and now thousands of jobs are at risk.

“Thanks to strong leadership and hard work from Assemblywoman Skinner and her staff, this bill enjoyed widespread support across at incredibly diverse group of stakeholders. California cities, schools, utilities, utility regulators, environmental groups, brick-and-mortar retailers, home builders, solar energy businesses, and thousands of energy consumers all supported raising the net metering cap to 5%. The fact that a tangential issue derailed one of California’s most critical solar programs is unfortunate to say the least,” said Adam Browning, executive director of the Vote Solar Initiative.

The Legislature did however approve a plan to boost the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard from the current 20 percent to 33 percent by 2020. Utilities will now be required to obtain 33 percent of their electricity by 2020 from renewable resources, including solar, wind, biomass and landfill gas.

The legislature includes renewable energy credits and using out-of-state power. New provisions include counting hydroelectric power from Canada and more than 7,000 MW of fossil fuel as renewable energy in the form of combined heat and power.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said over the weekend he would veto the law and use an executive order to allow more imports from neighboring states.

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