Along with the previously mentioned AB920, last week Governor Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 32, a law that expands the scope of the existing FIT(Feed-In Tariff, a system for selling energy back to utilites)-like program in California, which could “radically change the relationship between businesses and homeowners and their local utility, making them paid producers and suppliers of electricity” (Dana Hull, SJ Mercury).
Under previous law, utilities were required to purchase solar power from facilities up to 1.5 MW in size at set rates above those paid for power from conventional sources. SB32 increases that upper limit to 3 MW and applies to publicly owned, municipal utilities (rather than only the investor owned utilities), to complement an increase in the ratio of renewable to conventional power that the utilities must purchase. The increase of recognition from 1.5 to 3 MW systems will, supporters believe, create greater financial incentive to install solar arrays for those households and businesses that have extra space but don’t use enough energy to justify large solar installation. The increase allows for better economies of scale, helping to make solar installation a viable investment for such home- and business owners.
SB32 also expands the field of considerations the CPUC is allowed to make when determining the price that utilities will pay for this renewable energy to include the value of avoiding environmental impacts and the value of “locational benefits.” This is important because many critics believe that the previous program failed to significantly increase renewable energy production due to the low price of the solar electricity, which made the investment in solar panels financially impractical.
SB32, then, will encourage owners of large lots, storage units, and any other low-energy facilities, as well as homeowners with unused space on their properties, to install solar power systems, which leads to another anticipated benefit of the new law: the boost in solar installations will create more local (and green) jobs!
Questions remain about the effectiveness of this bill, and of AB920, but they represent steps toward increased Californian energy responsibility and green economy. More information, particularly about FIT-like characteristics of this program, can be found at Ted Ko’s blog. And again in the Merc and the LA Times.