Administration Promises Massive Photovoltaic Deployment

By Published On: October 25, 2004

Promises from officials in the governor?s administration and legislators this week would lead the state to adopt an energy policy that embraces massive deployment of solar power. Enthusiasm for the solar move, evidenced during the Solar Power 2004 conference held October 18-21 in San Francisco, appears in part to be a response to the state?s failure to pursue any major energy approach in 2004. ?We want solar to be as ubiquitous and commonplace as an air conditioner,? said Terry Tamminen, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA). ?A ?Million Solar Homes? is just a down payment.? Legislators promised to reintroduce the ?Million Solar Homes? bill on the first day of session later this year. The bill was derailed in August. Some legislators, and one California Energy Commission member, argued that ratepayers should support solar investments in generally the same way they pay for utilities? investments in more traditional modes of electricity production. ?It will come from ratepayers, no doubt?the same as money for nuclear steam generators, the same as natural gas,? said Energy Commission member John Geesman. The commissioner added that while solar investments are distinguished as ?bad? rate increases, other huge sums are passed through with little question. For instance, Geesman said, ?not one word of dissent or debate from state government? has been mouthed regarding plans by Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison to spend about $1.5 billion on new steam generators for their nuclear facilities. Some legislators agreed that in order for the state to lean more toward solar power and less toward fossil fuels?a shift that opinion polls suggest has widespread appeal?ratepayers must provide up-front investment cash. ?We?re less than forthright to communicate to consumers that their interest and well-being is protected if we?re not looking at the bigger picture,? said Assemblymember Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). He explained that lawmakers intend to speak to consumer groups to get their support for future solar investments. The cost to ratepayers was key in the demise of the solar homes legislation authored by Senator Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles). Though substantial funds are necessary for true solar commitment, this would not be unprecedented, Tamminen noted. Anyone balking at the cost of subsidies to promote widespread solar installations ?is obviously someone who?s not looked into subsidies available for fossil fuel,? he said. Democratic legislators speaking at a policy session during this week?s conference set aside partisan views to laud Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for his support of solar legislation. ?You have to give the governor great credit. He came significantly our way?considering he started out as a Republican?[and was] willing to buck and drag the building industry along,? Murray said. If the governor gets his way, new legislation will include raising the cap on the number of net meters allowed?thus encouraging solar installations by allowing excess power to be sent back to the grid?and mandating that new buildings include solar installations, according to Drew Bohan, CalEPA assistant secretary of policy.

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