California PUC Approves Nation’s Biggest Solar Program

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) today approved the California Solar Initiative, a program to install 3,000 megawatts of solar on California homes, businesses, farms, schools and public facilities over 11 years. The initiative is the nation’s largest solar power investment, designed to make solar power mainstream and affordable. It will add clean energy to the state’s peak demand resources, reduce risk by diversifying the state’s energy portfolio, and establish a world-class solar market in California.

“With this initiative, California has taken a major step toward energy independence. This long-term, visionary policy will save ratepayers money, create high-paying jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. The CPUC should be congratulated in creating a decade-long initiative that will drive the US solar industry to invest in technological innovation and scale up manufacturing,” said Rhone Resch, president of the national Solar Energy Industries Association. “California will be a leader in the next great high-tech growth industry - solar energy.”

The California Solar Initiative creates 11 years of funding for consumer rebates. The CPUC will provide $2.8 billion in customer incentives for solar projects on existing residential buildings, as well as all public buildings, industrial facilities, businesses, and agricultural facilities. The California Energy Commission, meanwhile, will provide $400 million in incentives for new homes, specifically targeting collaborations with the builder / developer community. Incentives are to be gradually reduced over time and phased out by 2016 under the CPUC proposal. The money will come from existing funds already earmarked for solar power and a de minimis additional surcharge on monthly electric bills over eleven years.

The historic initiative will provide the power equivalent of six large natural-gas fired power plants, while reducing the need for costly updates to California’s congested electric grid. According to a staff report prepared by the CPUC in the summer of 2005, the state’s investment in solar power will save California ratepayers billions of dollars net of incentives over system lifetimes. These energy savings come at a critical time for California consumers, as record-level natural gas prices continue to add to citizens’ heating and electric bills.

“The CPUC’s solar plan is a practical and affordable solution to skyrocketing electric rates,” said Barry Cinnamon, president of the California Solar Energy Industries Association. “Rooftop solar provides electricity where people need it — for their homes and businesses — and when they need it most — during peak daytime hours. The California Solar Initiative will help one million homeowners and businesses install solar energy systems that will provide reliable power for 25-plus years, while at the same time achieving billions of dollars in savings for California ratepayers.”

“As huge energy bills hit California mailboxes this month, there is no better time to jumpstart a mainstream solar power market,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate for Environment California. “Today’s vote promises to eclipse expensive and imported fossil fuels with clean and homegrown solar power.”

“The public pressure to implement this program has been nothing less than inspiring, added David Hochschild of the Vote Solar Initiative. “Over the last three months, 50,000 people wrote to the Public Utilities Commissioners to ask them to pass this program - more public comment than the CPUC has received on any issue they have ever considered, including the 2001 energy crisis. It shows that public support for solar and renewables has reached a new threshold.”

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