Solar Homes Bill Rises

By Published On: August 21, 2004

After failing to survive an Assembly Appropriations Committee vote last week, the ?solar homes? venture in the Legislature appears to have found a new home?and approval of the governor?s office. Draft language circulated late in the week is said to have the support of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who did not officially support SB 1652 by Senator Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles), though elements of the bill had been advanced by the state Environmental Protection Agency. The measure no longer would hold residential ratepayers responsible for most of the costs of the program, which seeks to put solar photovoltaic panels on one million new homes around the state (<i>Circuit</i>, August 13, 2004). All investor-owned utility customers would pay a flat, nonbypassable charge of .05 cent/kWh. Rebates paid to solar homeowners under the program would not exceed $2.80/watt. In addition, new language would require municipal utilities to participate, with solar charges proportional to the size of a muni?s rate base. Representatives from the governor?s office did not return calls on the new bill content before press time. The plan to spread program costs more evenly among utility customers?and include munis in the solar initiative?appears to speak to the major concerns The Utility Reform Network has about the bill, though lobbyist Lenny Goldberg said staff are still reviewing the text. He added that another provision could use more scrutiny: the bill would require state regulators to develop time-varying electric tariffs for all customers. Goldberg said it?s unclear whether the goal is to have everybody on time-of-use rates or if the tariff would be optional. The California Public Utilities Commission would also ensure that enough money is available for the program and set up a special rate component for the nonbypassable charge. Though the bill was not in print by press time, Capitol watchers say the new language for the solar homes program would inhabit SB 199?also a Murray bill. SB 199 at present is a telecommunications measure, but it is a suitable vehicle for new content because AB 1733 by Assemblymember Sarah Reyes (D-Fresno) already takes on the same issue. Assuming SB 199 goes solar, the bill would still face a multitude of hurdles. In the Assembly, the bill would have to clear Appropriations and the Utilities and Commerce Committee before going to a floor vote. The bill would head back to the Senate for an ?up or down? vote (no amendments allowed) before the Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and then move on to the Senate floor. The legislative session ends August 31, but rule waivers could keep the bill in play.

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