Bills Ease Way for More Solar and Efficiency Advance

By Published On: April 18, 2008

Bills to bolster installation of solar power rooftop systems, other renewable energy supplies, and energy efficiency, passed state legislative committees this week. AB 2863 by Assemblymember Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) exempts from California Public Utilities Commission regulation companies that sell power to home and commercial building owners from photovoltaic systems the firms own and maintain on rooftops. He said the exemption significantly lowers the cost of solar power by allowing the solar companies to reap the federal investment tax credit and depreciation. Regulating solar companies on par with investor-owned utilities, Leno said, inhibits investments in non-utility solar energy systems. The legislation covers photovoltaic system agreements that only supply enough power to be consumed on site or by two people. The bill was passed on an 11-0 vote April 14 by the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee. This measure is one of several aimed at increasing the success of the state’s Million Solar Roofs Initiative, also known as “Go Solar,” which dedicates $3.3 billion to installations to create up to 3,000 MW of new sun-derived power. To date, more than 70 percent of all commercial applications under the solar initiative are under power purchase deals, according to the committee analysis. The Assembly panel also approved a measure by its chair Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), AB 2768, on a 9-4 vote. It removes the requirement that solar systems subsidized by the million solar roofs measure be subject to time-of-use rates. These variable rates rise with energy demand. The author said the tariff interferes with solar installations and is no longer needed because the CPUC established a rebate formula that rewards owners of solar installations for lowering their energy use at times of highest demand. Also approved was a bill by Assemblymember Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) that requires utilities and other energy providers to state in plain language the cost of retail power. That includes to renters under contracts between home owners and solar power companies. Blakeslee, noting that his AB 1763 is a work in progress, added it was needed to “protect renters from unreasonable energy charges for solar systems.” Assemblymember Mike Feuer’s (D-Los Angeles) AB 2988 exempts the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power from mandated environmental analyses of solar and other alternative energy proposals prior to signing deals for renewable resources. The bill passed on a 13-0 vote. Requiring the muni to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act review procedures would keep it from reaching its goal of having 35 percent of its power come from solar and other renewable resources by 2020, the muni said. CEQA reviews are problematic, according to Randy Howard, LADWP power engineering manager, because project sites or other agreement terms are not always settled at the time of contract signing. Feuer noted that the investor-owned utilities’ third party renewable energy agreements are not subject to CEQA rules. Levine said the measure was problematic and self serving, akin to the “fox guarding the fox house,” not the henhouse. Not having a discussion on alternatives to proposed renewable deals as required by CEQA, he said, could increase polluting backup power generation to fill in gaps of intermittent wind energy. Blakeslee also raised potential bill flaws. However, he and Levine voted for it because no environmentalists opposed it. AB 2678 by John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) also passed. It requires the California Energy Commission to develop requirements for residential energy audits at the time of a house sale. The bill, approved 8-4, aims to reduce greenhouse gases in California and curb home energy use costs. Laird said limiting energy efficiency measures to new homes only addresses 1 percent of the state’s housing stock, while 65 percent of state homes, an estimated 8 million, were built before Title 24 building efficiency standards were enacted in 1978. Realtors opposed the measure, claiming it would add $200-$400 to home sale prices, thus slowing house purchases. A California Association of Realtors lobbyist asserted the measure “opened the door to forced retrofits.” Other bills passed by the Assembly utilities committee include: AB 2308 by Assemblymember Mark DeSauliner (D-Martinez) aims to increase residential energy audits. It requires the CPUC by January 2010 to authorize investor-owned utilities to conduct a “reasonable number” of energy efficiency audits. Sponsored by the California Building Industry Association, it passed on a 12-0 vote. AB 1909 by Assemblymember Mary Hayashi (D-Hayward) attempts to alter the CEC power plant siting process. It was written in response to objections in Hayward over a proposed second power plant within city borders. It remains in the committee’s hands until next month. Whether it will be reheard depends upon whether the energy commission approves the permit for the gas-fired project by a Texas-based company. The next day, across the aisle, a raft of minor bills also moved ahead after being passed by the Senate Utilities, Communications, and Commerce Committee. SB 1714 by Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino) increases the amount of renewable energy eligible for a tariff under which utilities pay for solar, wind, and other small renewable systems that feed power into the grid. It expands the size of eligible renewable systems from 1.5 MW to 4 MW, and also adjusts the rate to reflect the benefits of renewable systems. The Chino lawmaker said numerous solar opportunities were being missed, especially on vast warehouse rooftops in her district where “the sun shines 281 days a year” on average, because of the low energy rate. She said the current tariff, which is capped at a total of 500 MW, fails to factor in the savings of solar energy that does not need long distance transmission lines. It passed on a 6-0 vote. SB 1512, a measure by Senator Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa), extends solar rebate eligibility to wineries and agriculture interests that have more than one electric meter. Under current law, rebates for photovoltaics are limited to ratepayers with one electric meter. Because of the nature of farm and wine operations there are often multiple meters across large swaths of property. The bill passed on a 9-0 vote. SB 1460, another Wiggin’s bill, seeks to increase the installation of solar systems and energy efficiency in rental units. She noted that landlords have little incentive to install clean energy systems and efficiency measures because the tenant reaps the benefit and the systems have high upfront costs. The bill, passed on a 9-0 vote, specifically requires the California Public Utilities Commission to develop a cost-effective program to help increase energy efficiency measures and solar energy by July 1, 2009. SB 1399 by Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) aims to resolve tensions between property owners with trees and owners of solar energy systems affected by their shade. It addresses an obscure state law that prohibits trees from crowding out photovoltaic system-produced power. This bill safeguards from destruction trees that were there before the solar installations and enactment of the Million Solar Roofs law. It was approved 8-0. SB 1438, passed on a 9-0 vote, requires the CPUC to consult with the Energy Commission and grid operator on the development of a “smart grid” policy for the state. Under the bill by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) regulators are to develop by January 2009 a definition and standards and protocols to increase system reliability and integrate more renewables into the grid. SB 1737, a bill by Senate Energy committee chair Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), approved 8-0, promotes electric and low-emission vehicles. It attempts to refocus the CPUC on implementing policy that advances electric and low emission cars, similar to what it did early in the last decade.

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