Friday, June 03, 2005

Senate passes Schwarzenegger's 'million solar roofs' plan

Posted on Wed, Jun. 01, 2005
Associated Press

SACRAMENTO - The Senate on Wednesday passed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan for a new round of incentives to encourage use of solar-generated electricity.

The approval came despite arguments that years of government support have yet to make the industry self-sufficient.

California has a wealth of solar energy just when it needs it most, on stifling summer afternoons of the sort that led to rolling blackouts and spiking electricity costs during the state's power crisis in 2000 and 2001, said Sen. John Campbell, R-Irvine, one of the bill's authors.

Schwarzenegger's goal is to harness that abundance of energy and produce 3,000 megawatts worth of solar power by 2018. That amounts to about 5 percent of the state's entire electricity use at peak periods, the equivalent of the energy produced by six large fossil fuel-fired plants, said Sen. Kevin Murray, D-Culver City, another of the bill's authors. One megawatt is enough to power about 750 homes.

Under the so-called "million solar roofs" bill, homeowners and businesses would get rebates for installing solar panels and would save money by producing their own energy and selling excess power back to the electrical grid.

The legislation proposes that utility ratepayers provide incentives for 10 years, a move that "will jump-start this very promising technology," Campbell said.

Senators sent the bill to the Assembly on a 28-3 vote, with Murray's promise to work out lingering objections from labor unions and cap the amount of incentives that could be offered each year. That would ensure electricity bills don't increase exorbitantly to pay incentives.

"I didn't expect to see so much bipartisan support in the Senate. It gives us tremendous momentum" in the Assembly, said Bernadette Del Chiaro of Environment California, which is backing the bill.

Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Northridge, opposed the bill, saying solar energy remains "the most expensive way we've ever devised to produce electricity."

Despite years of subsidies, solar energy costs about three times as much per kilowatt hour as natural gas- or wind-generated electricity, and is far more expensive than nuclear power or hydroelectricity, McClintock said.

Utilities predict the majority of their customers won't be able to install solar panels to take advantage of the incentives, but Campbell argued that wider use eventually would mean lower energy costs for everyone.


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