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Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Last modified Tuesday, August 22, 2006 1:10 AM PDT
 
 


Governor signs law for solar panels in new homes by 2011

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Monday legislation that is expected to boost his plan to place solar panels on 1 million rooftops and create the equivalent of five new modern power plants.

The legislation, authored by Sen. Kevin Murray, D-Los Angeles, requires homebuilders to make rooftop solar panels an option for buyers of new homes in all housing tracts of at least 50 houses, beginning on Jan. 1, 2011.

"When you go in to buy a home, you'll pick your carpet, you'll pick your tile and hopefully you'll pick what type of solar roof you want," Murray said at a bill-signing ceremony in Los Angeles.

Building industry representatives said they support the bill and can live with the 2011 requirement.

"It makes perfect sense to do this in the state of California, especially in the south," said Borre Winckel, executive director for the Riverside County Chapter of the Building Industry Association, in a telephone interview. At the same time, said Winckel, the industry has concerns about the cost.

In any event, said Paul Tryon, chief executive officer for the Building Industry Association of San Diego County, "We stand prepared, as required in the law, to provide those opportunities in our large projects."

The legislation also more than doubles the number of electric customers in San Diego County who will be allowed to, in effect, sell surplus electricity to utilities when their solar panels generate more power than their homes use.

In such cases, customers will get credits toward future electric bills, said Scott Anders, director of the Energy Policy Initiative Center at the University of San Diego School of Law. The surplus power will be put out on the electric grid for use by other customers.

The legislation, Senate Bill 1, also expands the state's rebate program for homeowners who install panels on their roofs. The program has been available only for customers of the state's big three investor-owned utilities: San Diego Gas & Electric Co., which serves San Diego County; Southern California Edison, which serves Riverside County; and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Now, customers of city-owned utilities will be able to participate, too.

Anders said a typical household 2.5-kilowatt solar system costs $22,500 to install on one's roof. But under the governor's Million Solar Roofs Plan, homeowners can apply for $6,500 rebates from the California Energy Commission, he said. Combined with a $2,000 federal tax credit, that can reduce the cost to $14,000.

The law also sets aside $101 million for subsidies for installation of solar hot-water heaters.

Schwarzenegger said he envisions a California a decade from now where 1 million homes and businesses with panels will provide 3,000 megawatts -- the equivalent of five new power plants.

"Every rooftop can become a clean solar power plant," Schwarzenegger said.

In San Diego County, 200 commercial buildings and 3,300 houses have solar panels that collectively generate 21 megawatts, Anders said. Eddie Van Herik, an SDG&E spokesman, said the bill could raise that to 200 to 300 megawatts over the next decade.

The statewide initiative comes just a few years after market manipulation and tight electric supplies sparked rolling blackouts throughout California, and a triggered a power-plant-building campaign.

Regional electric experts said that, despite the new law's incentives, rooftop solar won't blanket communities overnight.

"We don't expect to see a tidal wave," said Tom Geldner, director of marketing for the San Diego Regional Energy Office, which currently cuts rebate checks for commercial solar customers.

Opponents of a proposed $1.3 billion transmission line SDG&E wants to build across North San Diego County and Imperial County seized on the development to reiterate their position that the utility should focus on developing so-called renewable power, such as solar, within San Diego County instead. They are fighting the Sunrise Powerlink line that would run 150 miles from El Centro through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Ramona and Rancho Penasquitos to a substation in Carmel Valley.

"SDG&E's Sunrise Powerlink is the SUV of electricity," said Diane Conklin, a Ramona resident and spokeswoman for the Communities United for Sensible Power, a coalition of community groups spread from the ocean to the desert.

However, Van Herik said the region needs both new local power sources and transmission lines that bring in power from outside to meet a regional peak demand that reached 4,502 megawatts during last month's heat wave and that grows by 100 megawatts annually.

Earlier this summer, Assembly Minority Leader George Plescia, R-La Jolla, and Assemblyman Mark Wyland, R-Escondido, voted against the legislation.

"The main problem that we had with the bill is that it would increase costs to the ratepayers who are already paying some of the highest rates in the nation," said Morgan Crinklaw, a spokesman for Plescia in Sacramento. "Ratepayers in California pay some of the highest electricity rates in the nation and this would just add to that."

The bill requires the program's cost -- $3.4 billion -- to be borne by California gas and electric utilities. Van Herik said it was unclear whether SDG&E rates would increase as a result.

-- Contact staff writer Dave Downey at (760) 740-5442 or ddowney@nctimes.com.

Contact:

Scott Anders
scottanders@sandiego.edu
(619) 260-4589