Wage Amendment May Lead to Veto of Million Solar

By Published On: September 1, 2005

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appears ready to veto SB 1, a bill that embodies his own Million Solar Roofs initiative. The change in posture came after Democratic legislators last week amended it to require prevailing wage for workers who install solar panels on commercial buildings. “SB 1 abruptly lost its bi-partisan support when union-sponsored amendments were added that would drive up the cost of solar installations,” said Bill Maile, spokesperson for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. “The governor does not support the recent amendments and considers the bill unacceptable in its current form.” Schwarzenegger’s repudiation of the bill over the prevailing wage issue comes as unions for nurses, teachers, and other workers face off against the governor in a bitter dispute over propositions slated for the upcoming November special election. Proposals on redistricting and limits on the ability of unions to spend money for political purposes have created a high stakes power struggle between the governor and organized labor. Proposition 80, an initiative that would re-regulate the electric industry in the state, is also on the ballot. Although it is sponsored by the consumer group, The Utility Reform Network, it has been financially backed by the unions fighting the governor on these other issues. The politics of their dispute now threatens to override considerations on state policy for solar energy, said Bernadette del Chiaro, energy advocate for Environment California, a key supporter of SB 1. The rift came after Democrats added the prevailing wage amendment August 25 in the Assembly Appropriations Committee in an attempt to broker a compromise between unions and solar installers (<i>Circuit</i>, August 26, 2005). As the bill went to the committee last week, it would have prevented anybody except a fully licensed C-10 electrician from installing solar panels. The committee amended the bill to allow existing solar installers to continue to put up panels with their C-46 licenses, but also to require that they pay prevailing wage on commercial installations. The compromise amendment prompted Senator John Campbell (R-Costa Mesa)?who co-authored SB 1 with Senator Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles)?to withdraw his support. Following the panel’s action, Campbell accused unions backing the amendment of greed, said Floreine Kahn, his chief of staff. He warned that the additional cost would prevent the solar bill from achieving its goals. Campbell then called the governor’s office to voice his concerns and has been urging other legislators to vote against the bill too, according to Kahn. Campbell, she added, also is very concerned that an amendment to reduce the net metering cap for solar power from 5 percent to 2.5 percent of power demand would prevent the state from reaching the bill’s goal of installing 3,000 MW of solar power. In an attempt to salvage SB 1, Democratic legislators have entered discussions with the governor’s office and unions to try to reach a last-minute compromise before the bill comes up for final passage late next week, said Rob Digman, Murray’s communications director. “The focus of the bill has been on residences,” Digman added. That is, it is expected to help subsidize photovoltaic panels that produce electricity on individual homes or apartments. Digman questioned whether the prevailing wage requirement would significantly raise the cost of the million solar roofs program. He also minimized the effect of the amendment to lower the net metering cap, saying the bill will still meet or “get very close” to its 3,000 MW solar power goal. That amount of electricity would replace about six new large fossil fueled power plants. In the absence of any Legislative analysis, others contended that the impact of the two amendments on the future of solar energy in California is largely unknown. Without an analysis, it is hard to project whether the prevailing wage amendment will have a significant impact on the program’s cost, del Chiaro said. Reducing the net metering cap, however, clearly will make it impossible to meet the bill’s 3,000 MW solar goal, del Chiaro noted. A higher cap will be needed?either now or through later amendments to the bill.

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