Where Does California’s Million Solar Roofs Initiative Go From Here

Late Thursday night, the California’s Million Solar Roofs bill died when the Legislature ended the 2005 session. Originally proposed by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2004 and supported by legislators from both parties along with a broad range of solar industry, environmental and public interest groups, the bill would have created ten years of incentives for solar energy to help Californians install one million rooftop solar energy systems on our homes and businesses.

The autopsy report is not complex. The blame falls squarely on the ongoing political tensions between the Governor and the Legislature and to the inability of various labor interests and advocates for this bill to reach a consensus. But solar advocates should not be disappointed by the demise of the bill. Despite this legislative failure, the Million Solar Roofs program is nevertheless positioned to become a policy success. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which created the state’s current large-scale solar incentive program ($125 million per year), is moving to implement the Million Solar Roofs program. The CPUC has wide authority to implement the key provisions of the Million Solar Roofs bill, the most important of which is the funding. CPUC President Michael Peevey, a strong supporter of solar energy, has been leading this effort. It is critical that his efforts receive broad support. In June, the CPUC issued its implementation proposal (see link below) and the final ruling to establish the Million Solar Roofs program is expected in the next 2-3 months. One thing that will not be possible for the CPUC to change is the state’s net metering cap, which limits the amount of grid-connected solar energy that can be installed. However, increasing the net metering cap this year is no longer a pressing issue with the passage of SB 816 (Kehoe), which raises the net metering cap to 50 MW in the region where it most needed to be raised – the San Diego Gas and Electric territory. There will be time for the legislature to increase the net metering in the next session and this is widely expected to happen. In the circus of interest group politics, special elections and political horsetrading that define the California political scene today, it can be easy to lose sight of how much state leadership on these issues really matters. As long as renewable energy remains is a national priority without national leadership, the responsibility to create policies that nurture the clean energy technologies of tomorrow like solar power falls to California. And the responsibility to continue to keep fighting until these policies are implemented falls to all renewable energy supporters. About the Author David Hochschild is Director of Policy the Vote Solar Initiative, a non-profit organization working to bring solar energy into the mainstream.
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