CPUC Touts Solar Incentive Program

By Published On: April 18, 2008

Interest in the pricey California Solar Initiative is meeting expectations, according to a California Public Utilities Commission progress report issued April 14. To date, the program has helped install 33.4 MW of photovoltaic panels throughout the state and is processing applications for incentive payments for another 249.3 MW of capacity. The report called the demand “robust.” Molly Tirpak Sterkel, CPUC program supervisor, noted, “It’s very early in the program, though.” The CPUC progress report showed that the commission’s $2.17 billion initiative would provide $649 million in subsidies if all of the pending applications are approved, or about 30 percent of the total money. The resulting installations would represent 14 percent of the commission’s 1,940 MW goal, Sterkel said. The California Solar Initiative is one of three prongs of the $3.3 billion “Go Solar” program, which is aimed at seeing 3,000 MW of grid connected solar power installed in the state by 2016. Go Solar was established by the state under SB 1, also known as the Million Solar Roofs measure, which passed in 2006. The commission’s initiative provides payments to residents to partially defray the cost of installing solar panels on rooftops. So do the other two prongs of the program, which include the $400 million New Solar Homes Partnership administered by the California Energy Commission and $784 million in separate solar funding efforts administered by the state’s publicly owned utilities. Under Go Solar and precursor efforts, the state had 280 MW of installed photovoltaic generating capacity at the end of 2007. Sterkel said that the report does not analyze cost trends for panels and their installation, because it is so early in the 10-year program. However, future status reports will do so, she said. Solar panel prices at the retail level have trended downward slightly over the past year, according to a market survey by solarbuzz.com. But for the past several months they have not moved noticeably up or down. The CPUC report also does not provide data on penetration of solar into low income neighborhoods because the commission has yet to establish a structure for carrying out SB 1’s 10 percent low income set aside provision. However, the CPUC on April 16 issued a request for proposals from contractors interested in managing the set aside money.

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