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Legislature Moves to Continue Support for Solar Industry

by Lucas Eaves, published

California Solar industry Credit: Kirschner /

California leads the country in solar jobs with 37 percent of the roughly 119,000 industry jobs nationwide in 2012, according to a report released last week. The State Legislature is currently considering a number of bills that would further support California's solar industry.

2012 was a great year for solar energy. The U.S. installed 3,313 megawatts (MW) of solar electricity, a 76 percent growth in photovoltaic installation over 2011. California increased its capacity by 1,033 megawatts in 2012. Solar electricity now powers 626,000 homes in the state and employs 43,700 people.

The California Solar Initiative (CSI), initiated by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, has played a major role in making the state a leader in the solar industry. The program provides incentives for solar system installations to customers of the state’s three investor-owned utility companies: Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E.)

The program has a roughly $2.17 billion budget to be spent between 2007 and 2016 to increase installed solar capacity by 1,940 MW.

However, it will soon run out of cash as the PG&E and SDG&E used all their subsidies and SCE says it only has $118 million in funding. Federal funding will also begin to dry out in the coming years. U.S. Department of Energy tax incentives are scheduled to end in 2017, unless Congress renews them. The DOE loan program has contributed $12 billion since 2009.

Considering these upcoming challenges, California legislators are pushing a number of new bills that would continue to promote California's solar industry.

The Equitable Access to Solar Energy Bill (AB217) was introduced by Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) and co-authored by Senator Kevin De León. The purpose of the bill is to continue the funding of solar incentives for low income families.

Ten percent of the CSI's funding has been allocated to low income families through two programs: SASH and MASH. However, the funding for these programs is nearly exhausted. The bill would extend the programs to 2021 with a budget of $108 million. The funding would come from the continuation of the current surcharge collected by the electrical corporations for CSI.

SB 43, sponsored by Senator Lois Wolk, and AB 1014, sponsored by Assemblymember Das Williams, would create a Shared Renewable Energy program. Currently, one of the limits to the growth of solar energy in California is that 75 percent of households cannot participate in its development because they are renting their house, their roof is too small, or they do not have good enough incentives.

The bills would provide a remedy by allowing businesses and households to voluntarily buy up to 100 percent renewable power from a shared facility and receive a credit on their utility bill similar to the one they would have if they owned the installation. The initiative would be applicable to all renewable energies, not only solar.

According to a report by Vote Solar, these bills could create 12,700 construction-related local jobs, $130 million in tax revenue, and $4.3 billion in total economic activity.

With other countries like China and Germany investing massively in solar energy, it seems California has the capacity to continue to be a leader in the sector. However, it will need the continued support of the state Legislature.

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