Million Solar Roofs Bill Dies in California Assembly

The Million Solar Roofs bill, the biggest solar power policy considered in the nation, was killed again by the California Assembly today after months of high-profile attention and bipartisan votes in both chambers.

Not air pollution, nor blackouts, nor soaring energy costs were enough to elevate the Million Solar Roofs bill above the politics of the day. The derailment of one of the most popular and commonsense bills of the year is the new poster child for short-sighted partisan politics. The Million Solar Roofs bill, authored by State Senator Kevin Murray (D-Culver City) and supported by Governor Schwarzenegger as well as more than 200 cities, businesses and organizations throughout the state, aimed to build 3,000 MW of solar panels on a million roofs, including half of all new homes, and in ten years growing the market by 30-fold – enough to make the industry self-sustaining. The Million Solar Roofs bill would have achieved its goals in three main ways: 1) Provided $2.5 billion in consumer rebates to homeowners and businesses over ten years. 2) Required that solar panels become a standard offer for new homebuyers just like marble countertops. 3) Allowed homeowners and businesses to receive a credit on their monthly electric bill for excess power generated by their solar system. Over the past six months the bill, SB 1, passed through five committees as well as the State Senate by a strong bipartisan vote of 30-5. The bill was derailed when it reached its second to last stop, the Assembly Appropriations Committee where three amendments were added to the bill after intense lobbying of two labor unions, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the State Building Trades Council (SBTC). Two other unions, Carpenters and Laborers, opposed these amendments, two of which were geared toward electricians. Now the finger pointing will start, everyone having someone else to blame but at the end of the day. Sacramento failed to reach what was an easy compromise. Ultimately the problem with the Million Solar Roofs bill wasn’t the policy, it was the politics. Solar advocates will now turn their attention to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which has the authority to establish a rebate program on its own. The PUC does not have the authority, however, to incorporate solar panels into new home construction, a key component of the Million Solar Roofs bill, or increase net metering, the ability for homeowners and businesses to receive a credit on their monthly electric bills for excess power generated by their solar systems. In the wake of Sacramento’s inaction, establishing a consumer rebate program through the administrative process is our next best bet. But ultimately, California needs a more comprehensive solar policy and so long as the sun still shines we’ll continue to fight for this commonsense solution. Other policy venue options include returning again to the legislature in January or taking the solar initiative straight to the voters through the statewide initiative process. About the Author Bernadette Del Chiaro is a Clean Energy Advocate for Environment California, a statewide nonprofit nonpartisan environmental organization with more than 80,000 citizen members.

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