Hurray! Thursday morning the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved the California Solar Initiative by a vote of 3 to 1. The initiative was based on our Million Solar Roofs bill that failed earlier this year in the state legislature. This is a truly great and historic program that will make California a world wide leader in solar power and break our over dependence on fossil fuels.
Thanks for all of your activism to help make this giant victory happen. The CPUC received more public comments (50,000!) in support of this initiative than any other decision they've ever made and noted this showing of public support was a reason for their bold decision.
Of course, there is still much more work to be done to bring our vision of a mainstream solar power market to reality so stay tuned!
For more about this solar initiative see the article that ran in today's San Diego Union Tribune below, or your local paper.
$3 billion approved for solar rebates
Massive program is largest in U.S. history
By Craig D. Rose
STAFF WRITER January 13, 2006
State utility regulators have passed the largest solar initiative in U.S. history, approving a $3 billion rebate program to subsidize the installation of 1 million rooftop systems over the next decade.
The effort by the California Public Utilities Commission has the potential to transform the state from a solar laggard to a leader. Supporters of the measure promise a burgeoning new manufacturing industry and cleaner air if California hits its target of enough solar panels to generate up to 3,000 megawatts of power.
On a sunny day, that would be enough to power nearly 3 million homes, or the output of six fossil fuel-burning power plants.
Noting that the state has long prided itself on being a leader in environmental matters, commission President Michael Peevey said the so-called California Solar Initiative extended that tradition.
"Our plan is to offer a subsidy now to push the deployment of an important part of our sustainable energy future in the long run," said Peevey, who noted that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger supported the program as part of a statewide effort to combat global warming and pollution.
Beyond California, the initiative could single-handedly boost the solar industry nationally. Where 110 megawatts of solar-power systems were installed across the nation last year - enough to power about 100,000 homes at peak production - the state plan hopes to prod the installation of 300 megawatts annually for a decade.
"This is the single most significant initiative that will occur in the solar field in 2006 globally," said Rhone Resch, president of the national Solar Energy Industries Association.
He noted that the U.S. solar industry effort has in recent years been eclipsed by programs in Germany and Japan. In fact, demand in those countries has created worldwide shortages of solar panels - known technically as photovoltaic panels because they convert light directly to electricity - and of silicon, the raw material used to make them.
But Resch said the California program will spur manufacturers to ramp up production. And he predicted that much of that manufacturing will take place in California or nearby states because solar panels are too heavy to ship great distances.
"What we are seeing is regional manufacturing," Resch said.
Environmental groups also applauded the plan.
"Today's vote promises to ultimately eclipse dirty and expensive fossil fuel with clean and efficient solar power," said Bernadette Del Chiaro of Environment California, which has long pressed for a solar initiative.
Under the program, subsidies would decline each year of the program based on the assumption that manufacturers will make their equipment more efficiently and trim costs.
At the start, state subsidies of $2.80 per watt will shave about $8,400 from the cost of a typical 3 kilowatt residential solar system, which several local installers said would cost about $25,000 without the subsidy.
Federal tax credits could save an additional $2,000, bringing a homeowner's net cost down to about $15,000.
Industry advocates say such systems will cut utility bills enough to allow homeowners to recoup their costs in about a decade. At the same time, a decade-long program provides stability for the solar equipment industry, which says it has been hampered by stop-and-start subsidies.
"I could never sign a five-year lease," said Barry Cinnamon, president of Akeena Solar in Los Gatos and head of a statewide industry trade group.
"It's not the sudden big pot of money that is important. The goal is to have a reasonable amount of money spread over a 10-year period so the industry can invest."
If the program reaches its objective of 3,000 megawatts, however, the systems themselves will likely satisfy only a small fraction of statewide demand.
Typical winter-day peak electricity demand is now about 32,000 megawatts, with summer-day peaks often reaching 45,000 megawatts.
But experts note that solar-power systems provide their maximum output on hot sunny days when statewide demand is highest.
While the solar initiative was widely hailed, it was passed by a divided 3-1 vote. Peevey was joined by commissioners Dian Grueneich and Rachelle Chong in supporting the measure.
Commission John Bohn recused himself because of past investments in the industry.
Geoffrey Brown voted against the measure because of his concern that the commission was encroaching into areas best left to the state Legislature, which failed to pass a similar solar initiative in each of the last two years.
Those efforts foundered over the issue of whether there would be a requirement to pay union wages to system installers, a question left unaddressed by the initiative.
Brown said it was impossible to defend the subsidy program as cost effective and added that it was a leap of faith to assume it would lead to lower-cost solar-power systems in the future.
Emphasizing that California utility rates are already among the nation's highest, he asked, "At what point are our rates too high to add a multi-billion subsidy program?"
He also said his "no" vote was motivated by a lack of details and safeguards, many of which have been left to be worked over the next year, and by the exclusion of payments to the program by customers of municipal utilities, over which the Public Utilities Commission lacks jurisdiction.
As currently structured, the program will be financed by surcharges on utility bills from investor-owned utilities like San Diego Gas & Electric that are expected to cost customers about $13 per year. The commission says the increase won't change bills dramatically because it will be offset by the planned elimination of surcharges for California's last great power initiative, electric deregulation.
Environment California Legislative Director
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