June 14, 2012

California Taking Steps to Promote Rooftop Solar

Posted In | By Shaun

California rooftops now support over 1,200 megawatts of rooftop solar panels, according to the California Solar Initiative.  That is three times more energy capacity than the destructive Ivanpah Solar facility in San Bernardino County, which has destroyed 5.6 square miles of ecologically intact desert habitat, and twice the energy capacity of the dirty Reid Gardner coal plant in Nevada.

Policies such as Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) and a healthy feed-in-tariff can boost rooftop solar even more. In the meantime,  California was taking other steps to promote local clean energy. On 24 May, the California Public Utilities Commission passed a rule requiring utility companies to increase the number of customers that can benefit from a program crediting them for any excess energy generated by rooftop solar panels and sent to the grid.  The ruling is a critical step and keeps the door open for rooftop solar, but the cap on rooftop solar likely will have to be raised again in the next two years.

Separately, the Public Utilities Commission in May passed an order encouraging utilities to establish a program for commercial and multi-family residential customers that would allow them to pay for energy efficiency upgrades and rooftop solar on their monthly utility bill.  The Commission does not have the authority to require such a program to benefit homeowners, but legislation championed by the Environmental Defense Fund, State Bill 998, will give the Commission the authority to do so.  On-bill repayment will help make energy efficiency and rooftop solar more accessible to people in California, allowing them to pay back the up front costs over time, and attaching the costs to the property where the improvements were made.

Separately, the “Solar for All” legislation (A.B. 1990) passed the Assembly in May, and is now pending in the State Senate. The bill will require utilities to institute a feed-in-tariff sufficient enough to generate 375 megawatts of local clean energy in disadvantaged and impoverished communities, bringing the benefits of rooftop solar to the communities that often suffer the most environmental injustice. 

We still have a long way to go to top progress made elsewhere—over 500,000 rooftop solar installations in Australia, and over 25,000 megawatts of distributed solar generation installed in Germany—but California is taking positive steps toward generating more clean energy at the point of use, sparing our wildlands for future generations.