Million Solar Roofs Bill Resurrected

The California Solar Initiative (CSI), adopted this past January by the California Public Utilities Commission, was widely considered a major victory for supporters of solar energy in California and beyond. It secured a long-term solar rebate plan for California funded at $3.2 billion dollars. But the solar roller coaster ride isn’t entirely over as the Million Solar Roofs bill, SB1, was recently resurrected by state lawmakers to address some items left unattended by the CSI.

By a vote of 6 to 1, the SB1 was approved by the State Assembly Utilities Committee. It includes provisions solar supporters say are critical to allow solar to move forward in the state. The CSI, passed earlier this year, delivered the major items solar proponents struggled for years to secure; it provided an 11-year rebate structure and the funds to back it up. But it didn’t address some other important items, particularly an expansion of the state’s net-metering cap. These items build upon the CSI but can only be adopted by the state legislature. The newly resurrected SB1 would raise the net-metering cap from one-half of 1 percent to 2.5 percent. The bill will also mandate that some or all new homes come equipped with solar panels as a standard option. Lastly, it would require the state’s municipally run utilities to adopt their own solar rebate programs. All three components could encounter some friction from the host of special interests with a stake in electricity generation and transmission, solar energy and labor. Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate for Environment California and sponsor of SB1, expects a similar labor interest component to play a part in this bill’s progress — or its challenges. Since the long-term rebate structure and its funding were approved by the PUC with the CSI, Del Chiaro doesn’t expect the same level of acrimony that dogged the bill in legislative sessions past. But she does expect some resistance to the mandate of solar on new homes with the fact that SB1 doesn’t contain provisions for solar installations to be done under so-called prevailing wages. Jan McFarland, executive director of Americans for Solar Power (ASPV), which represents a cross-section of industry interests, says the expansion of the net-metering cap is the most important item that can be addressed in SB1. She added that the mandate requiring solar on new homes would most likely be for projects of 50 homes or more. David Hochschild, executive director of PV Now, another group representing the solar industry, agrees with McFarland that raising the net-metering cap is the most important item included in SB1. He also feels strongly about the importance of requiring municipalities, such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, to shoulder the same support for solar energy as the investor-owned utilities do. This, he added, offered a rare moment of agreement between some unlikely parties. “The municipalities will be resisting that, at least some of them will,” Hochschild said. “Interestingly, this is one of the areas where there is agreement between the solar industry and the utilities as they’re both competing against the municipalities.” Having recently passed the State Assembly Utilities Committee, SB1 will eventually head to the Assembly Floor for a final vote. Before then, however, the final language of the bill is likely to be altered in one way or another. Del Chiaro was pleased with the recent vote but said she hoped the legislature would act quickly, “…and without any weakening amendments, so that California can continue on its way to becoming a world solar power leader.” In the meantime, a series of workshops are under way at the CPUC and the California Energy Commission to finalize the CSI. All indications so far are that the entire program in California will be shifted from an upfront, dollar-per-installed watt rebate, to a performance-based incentive, as is currently the norm with the majority of European solar rebate plans.

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