A <s>Million</s> Bunch of Solar Homes

By Published On: August 28, 2004

A weakened version of the ?Million Solar Homes? bill passed the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee on a 7-3 vote late on August 26. Advocates and the bill?s sponsor agree that it won?t provide nearly the number of solar homes that would have resulted from an earlier bill authored by Senator Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles) and supported by Governor Schwarzenegger. That bill was stopped on a 2-4 vote with one abstention after the Assembly?s Democratic leadership forbade party members to vote in favor. The new bill, SB 118 by Senator Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach), largely reproduced the language in Murray?s SB 199. The bill?s unusual process and its reduced goals for solar power left some people close to the situation bitter. ?It will play havoc with residential systems,? said V. John White, Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies executive director. ?It may do more harm than good.? The amended version of the bill was not available at press time, but legislative aides and advocates said it bumps up the maximum net metering that utilities must allow from 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent, rather than the 5 percent that was in Murray?s bill. It does not instruct the California Public Utilities Commission to begin a rate proceeding to fund future solar programs. SB 118 requires state-subsidized residential solar installations to pay prevailing wages for labor, which will likely raise costs and reduce the number of installations. Rather than a mandatory percentage of new homes with solar panels on a given date, the bill requires only that developers offer consumers a solar electric package as of January 1, 2008. On the plus side for solar advocates, the bill provides net metering to commercial and industrial ratepayers. An aide in Bowen?s office said, ?Senator Bowen has no goal of a million solar homes. Some people are advocates for solar at all costs. Senator Bowen is an environmentalist who doesn?t want mandates or excessive costs.? Environment California, which sponsored Murray?s bill, was generally satisfied with the situation. Bernadette Del Chiaro, Environment California clean energy advocate, said the most important issue for the group is to continue funding for the state?s existing solar rebate program. She said the program was overcommitted and a previous law prohibited it from using funds that would come in between 2007 and 2012. SB 118 allows the program to use future funds in 2005 and 2006. ?We still got a half a loaf and a governor who is committed to solar,? she said. But even she admitted that the process leading to the bill?s passage was strange and far from inclusionary. The politics of the competition between SB 118 and SB 199 were baroque. The Assembly?s Democratic leadership, which is prioritizing SB 2006, forbade Democrats to vote for the Murray bill in order to ensure passage of the Bowen bill. Bowen?s initial bill said the state?s solar homes program would receive the extra money and net metering only if SB 2006 were passed. That linkage was removed from the final Assembly bill, but having Bowen?s name on the bill still gives the Democratic leadership more leverage against the governor?s veto of SB 2006. The consumer group The Utility Reform Network adamantly opposed Murray?s bill. Lenny Goldberg, TURN lobbyist, was delighted that the Democrats stopped the proposal, saying that the Bowen bill is ?solar that tries to be the most efficient, most effective without a rate increase.? CEERT?s White said that the solar industry might end up supporting the bill. ?But I won?t,? he said, ?because Bowen stole it from Murray. Just the process.? With the legislative session set to end August 31, the bill must still pass the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and the full Assembly, before facing a final floor vote in the Senate.

Share this story

Not a member yet?

Subscribe Now