Schwarzenegger Signs Bill to Save Solar Funding

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation this week to keep funds flowing to the California Energy Commission’s (CEC) renewable energy rebate program. The stopgap bill, AB 135 authored by Assemblywoman Sarah Reyes (D-Fresno) and Assemblyman John Campbell (R-Irvine), gives the CEC permission to spend US$60 million, to be collected between 2007 and 2012, for solar system rebates for homes and businesses in either new construction or retrofits on existing facilities. The commission would otherwise not have access to the money until 2007, leaving a two-year gap in rebates.

The bill was originally passed in the twilight hours of a legislative session at the end of August. At that same time, lawmakers failed to approve a more popular solar homes bill authored by Senator Kevin Murray and supported by Governor Schwarzenegger, the solar industry and numerous environmental organizations. The Schwarzenegger administration was building upon the Murray bill with its own plans, known as the “Million Solar Homes Initiative,” and hoped to use it as a vehicle to secure passage in the legislature. Lawmakers voted the bill down, and citied the marginal extra cost to consumers as their reason. While the failed solar homes bill was a more aggressive and long-term bill, this stopgap measure manages to buy the solar industry and the Schwarzenegger Administration some time to introduce another comprehensive solar bill along the lines of the Million Solar Home Initiative without allowing the current rebates to wither away. “It’s extraordinarily important that it (AB 135) went through, otherwise there would be nothing for solar,” said Juliette Anthony, legislative consultant for Sun Power & Geothermal Energy, who helped throughout the final moments in August to push forward the critical legislation. “Basically what we did was give ourselves a little breathing room.” California’s solar-friendly legislation and rebates have helped create a burgeoning market with almost 80 percent of U.S. solar business now conducted in the state. Not simply content with a temporary funding fix, however, both the solar industry and the Schwarzenegger Administration appear eager to continue pushing for a major piece of solar legislation. Among the Schwarzenegger Administration’s goals for such legislation is ultimately a plan very similar to his Million Solar Homes Initiative, which failed to pass in the earlier legislative session. As the name implies, the cornerstone of this measure would enact policies to help add one million new solar homes in California. The plan would also include financial incentives to assist homeowners in absorbing the up front costs of installing solar, reform energy pricing to increase incentives for conservation and ensure real time pricing reflects actual costs, commit to working with allied industries, such as homebuilders and building inspectors, to adopt uniform building codes. Schwarzenegger said the plan builds on existing successful programs at the state and local level to ensure the benefits of solar are available to all Californians. “Every megawatt of energy Californians procure from renewable resources like the sun reduces our dependence on other sources,” Schwarzenegger said. “A diversified energy portfolio is a more secure energy portfolio. Assembly Bill 135 is the first step on this important journey and will help lead toward energy security, reliability and independence for California. I look forward to working with the California Public Utilities Commission and the legislature to assist in implementing my Million Solar System Initiative.”

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