Billion Dollar Solar Bill Hangs in the Balance

Two forces capable of dramatically boosting solar energy in California combined their strength this week — but were stalled in a legislative committee after failing to gain endorsement from Governor Schwarzenegger.

Sacramento, California – August 13, 2004 [] The so-called “Solar Homes bill”, which moved through the State legislature, has since been amended to reflect a recent proposal from the state’s Environmental Protection Agency that would achieve Governor Schwarzenegger’s campaign goal of requiring solar-electric systems on 50 percent of California homes. On Thursday however, the Assembly Appropriations Committee defeated the bill, putting it into a holding pattern until Augus 20, next Friday, when it may find another way to move ahead. “Time is short but we do have some legislative options that we are working on,” said Jan McFarland, Director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association. “The consequence of all of this could be the loss of California jobs. At the moment, we have over 500 companies and more than 4,000 jobs that are at stake.” The original bill, SB 1652, the Solar Homes bill, authored by State Senator Kevin Murray was designed to provide funds for the installation of solar electric systems on new homes built in California. The bill passed both the Senate and the California Assembly Housing Committee. This Solar Homes bill, or “Murray bill” would have established a minimum standard for builders to install solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on 15 percent of new single-family homes beginning in 2006, and increasing to 55 percent by 2010. That itself would be a dramatic boost for the solar energy industry in California, but the Murray Bill has since been amended, becoming a legislative vehicle for a similar, but stronger proposal from the state’s EPA, called the “Million Solar Homes Initiative,” that includes generous incentives for solar funded by a roughly 25-30 cent tax per month on households. The new amended SB 1652 provides US$1 billion in rebates over 10 years – $100 million per year fund to lower the cost of solar systems for future homeowners over ten years. If those incentives don’t provide enough motivation for the building and retrofitting industry, the bill provides a backstop mandating solar on five percent of new homes by 2010 and 50 percent of new homes by 2020. “Our goal is to build more solar homes, and by all measures (the amended) SB 1652 would put us on the right path in a very bold way,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate for Environment California, a non-profit environmental group that is sponsor of the Solar Homes Bill, SB 1652 (Murray). “This proposal is strong because it combines incentives with mandates.” The amended bill will also lift the current net metering cap to five percent peak energy demand allowing homeowners to sell excess electricity back to the grid. Currently, the total capacity of electricity from solar electric systems allowed into the grid is one-half of a percent. Specifics aside, there are a couple major glitches in all these plans — the Governor’s support and the bumpy legislative process. While this bill would fulfill the governor’s solar campaign promise, it hinges largely on his support which he has remained silent on. Despite recent polls indicating overwhelming public support for solar, there are many forces working against such measures. Both homebuilders and the state’s major utilities are against such proposals and these forces could help sway the governor against giving it his support. The process of finalizing the language in the bill threatens also threatens its passage. Not only did the bill stall in the Assembly Appropriations Committee due to a lack of support from the Governor, but finalizing the bill could not be agreed upon. From advocates for solar PV, solar thermal, the state’s building industry, the varying groups with something at stake could not agree upon the final language in the bill. “The concept is in agreement, it’s just now a logistical thing,” Del Chiaro said. “We’re very excited about the CalEPA proposal and hope the Governor gets behind it.” With the August 20 deadline looming large, CalSEIA is calling for solar industry support. The deadline is next Friday in order for this bill – in its current or some altered form – to find success in this legislative session. Click the link below to download a form letter from CalSEIA urging the Governor to put his support behind solar legislation.
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