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Solar Energy Incentives Put on Hold

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Solar Energy Incentives Put on Hold

Joe Rosato jr.

A rooftop array of 24 solar panels provides all the power for the Eco Center. The building isn't connected to PG & E at all. Beyond the panels is a view of the industry that fills the area.

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Back in 2007, the state of California put the California Solar Energy Initiative into action. It's a program designed to reward cities, schools, non-profits and residential and commercial projects for switching to solar power. In a time when clean, renewable energy is all the rage, it's no wonder so many applied to participate in the incentive based program.

It's a good-news, bad-news scenario.

First the bad news. The $1.7 billion that had been set aside to pay for those incentives is quickly running out, and it's leaving some with solar plans scratching their heads. While the California Public Utilities Commission's decision doesn't affect residential or commercial projects, people like Bill Savidge, the engineering director for the West Contra Costa Unified School district, are up in arms. He's all set to install solar panels at two campuses and he's wondering how the rules could be changed in the middle of the game.

"That's going to kill us", he says.

But there is a silver lining to this cloud blocking the solar initiative. It's only temporary. California has a goal to install 1,750 megawatts of capacity by 2016. And for the consumer, rebates are the incentive. If the money allocated for those rebates is spent too quickly, that goal might be a lot further off. That's why this suspension of payments shouldn't last longer that three months and only affects those whose applications were received after July 9.

Most people would probably agree that solar energy is a great idea. Clean, renewable, and abundant. The overwhelming response to the California Solar Energy Initiative should be seen as a positive. Sara Birmingham is the policy director for the trade group Solar Alliance. She says, "I do understand why the PUC needs to take this step, but we're hoping we can come up with some creative ideas".

So it appears California's delay isn't necessarily California's denial. Solar power conversion will continue to be rewarded in the state. It will just take a little while longer for that rebate to come in the mail.

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