Million Solar Roofs Bill Passes Key Committees

The Million Solar Roofs bill, SB 1, cleared two important committees in California’s State Assembly, marking what advocates called the “highest hurdle to date” in a three year battle to pass the nation’s strongest solar power bill.

Wednesday, the bill cleared the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee by a vote of 6-0. The popular solar bill, which failed to pass this same committee last year, received votes from both Democrats and Republicans. Similar support was on hand Thursday in the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee where the bill was passed with a bi-partisan vote of 6-1. Housing Committee Co-chair Bonnie Garcia (Palm Springs) also became an official co-author of the bill during the hearing. Co-authored by Senator Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles) and Senator John Campbell (R-Orange County) and recently joined by Committee Chairman Assemblymember Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) as a primary co-author, the Million Solar Roofs bill promises to grow the California solar market, already the third largest in the world, by 30-fold, and an expected lowering of the cost of solar power. SB 1 is officially endorsed by Governor Schwarzenegger as well as a list of more than 50 businesses, environmental and consumer organizations, cities, and labor unions. The Million Solar Roofs bill would establish a large, long-term solar power program to build a million solar homes and businesses over ten years, including building half of all new homes with solar power by 2017. Such goals would grow California’s solar power market from an annual 30 MW to over 300 MW. Economic modeling by Environment California Research & Policy Center shows this kind of sustained growth over ten years would be enough to cut the cost of installing solar panels, currently around $8.50/watt, in half by 2015, the price point at which the panels are cost-effective without subsidies. “After three years of fighting for the nation’s biggest solar bill, today’s vote marks our greatest accomplishment to date,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, Clean Energy Advocate with Environment California who has been working to pass the solar bill since 2003. “What makes this bill so exciting is that instead of solar being just for the backwoods hippy and Malibu millionaire, we’re talking about making solar as mainstream and cost-effective for all Californians as double-paned windows and insulation,” said Del Chiaro. While the bill could mainstream solar, there are still some important issues to be ironed out in the bill, according to industry sources. This includes the C-10 licensure requirement which is still in the bill, Edison’s amendment freezing rate design that is still in the bill and the annual appropriation requirement remains unchanged. These issues are now left to the Appropriations committee where the outcome remains uncertain. Regardless of how the specifics are ironed out, public support for solar in California is strong according to a recent poll from the Vote Solar Initiative. The poll, conducted for the Vote Solar Initiative by the Field Research Institute, found that 77 percent of Californians support increasing the state’s investment in solar energy. (The poll was conducted in June 2005, with a sample size of 954 Californians). “We are extremely pleased with the results of this poll, which shows that support for solar energy is extremely robust in California,” said JP Ross of the Vote Solar Initiative. “Furthermore, is shows that a majority of Californians are willing to add up to 50 cents per month to their bill to support more solar in our state. Over ten years, these funds will bring solar into the mainstream and make it competitive with fossil fuel based energy production.” The bill’s next and final committee vote will be in Assembly Appropriations Committee which is likely to hear the bill after reconvening from summer recess in late August.
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