Legislation attempting to thwart growing solar panel theft passed the Assembly Utilities & Communications Committee May 3. AB 1923, by Assemblymember Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), passed 9-2. The bill is in response to $400,000 worth of solar panel thefts in Napa County--primarily ground-mounted ones at rural wineries. Napa, according to Evans, is “ground zero” for solar panel thefts. Last year, more than 400 photovoltaic solar panels were stolen. AB 1923 directs an unspecified amount of the California Solar Initiative’s $50 million research and development funding pot to investigating and developing ways to prevent the theft of the PV panels in and outside the Wine Country. Also passed by the panel was a controversial bill specifically allowing a company that ties two renewable technologies together to reap state renewable subsidies. AB 2378, sponsored by STS Ventures, would ensure that so called dual renewable systems are eligible for state rebates. Some lawmakers saw no need for the bill, AB 2378, by Assemblymember Van Tran (R- Costa Mesa), insisting emerging technology that combines two technologies--such as sun and wind power or wave and wind energy--can reap existing subsidies without changing the law. Assemblymember Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) questioned why the bill was limited to combining two renewable technologies, asking why not combining three to eight different renewable technologies were included in the proposed language. “You want to put them together like peanut butter and jelly,” he said. “That’s great, but a statutory change is unnecessary,” he added. Huffman rejected the assertion the measure was a jobs bill, claiming it was a means to gain “proprietary advantage” for STS Ventures, a start up venture capital firm aiming to invest in combined renewable technologies. Tran’s AB 2378 passed on a 9-2 vote. Sister legislation by Tran that would have enabled the company working on developing duo renewable technologies, such as placing solar panels atop windmills, failed to garner enough support for a vote. The committee chair, however, agreed to reconsider Tran’s AB 2589. The energy committee passed its own bill, AB 2769, to tweak the California Public Utilities Commission president’s reporting duty. Two days later, the Assembly Appropriations Committee passed a bill to limit utility shutoffs. AB 2207 requires utilities to give ratepayers delinquent on their monthly bill payments three-to-12 months of leeway in paying off their debt to utilities. The measure by Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar) passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee May 5. In separate action May 3, the Assembly Natural Resources Committee approved two bills. The first, AB 2014 authored by Assemblymember Alberto Torrico (D-Fremont), creates a state tax for retrofitting homes for energy efficiency based on energy audits. “We’re going to have to deal with existing [building] stock,” said Torrico, if the state is going to successfully reduce greenhouse gases by cutting the demand for electricity through improved energy efficiency. The bill allows credits of up to $1,500, or 50 percent of the cost of the retrofits, whichever is less. Torrico told the committee he was open to including a yet-to-be-determined sunset date for the credit. Assemblymember Wes Chesbro (D-Arcata), committee chair, abstained. He explained that because of the state’s budget deficit, lawmakers should refrain from creating more tax breaks, even for noble goals like energy efficiency. The panel also approved a bill authored by Assemblymember Skinner, AB 2498. It clarifies that combined heat and power systems operated by petroleum refiners, food processors and other industries--commonly known as cogeneration units--are subject to California’s climate change law, AB 32. The Assembly energy panel also approved the bill this week.