Schwarzenegger Signs Legislation to Complete Million
Solar Roofs Plan
August 22, 2006 -Ed Mendel - Union Tribune, Staff
SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday
signed a bill that completes his “million solar roofs
plan,” a move he says will put California on the cutting
edge of renewable energy while also boosting the economy.
The bill and action by the state Public Utilities
Commission in January use a rate increase, about $15
a year for the average residential customer, to provide
rebates lowering the cost of installing solar panels.
The goal of the $3.2 billion program is to create
3,000 megawatts of clean solar power – or 5 percent
of the state's total need – during the next decade,
avoid constructing six fossil-fuel power plants and
the greenhouse gases they would emit and lower solar
costs through mass production.
While supportive of
renewable energy, consumer advocates were split over
whether the program finances would pan out as promised.
The governor estimated that the current cost of installing
a solar power system in a typical house, about $15,000,
could be reduced to $2,000 if the plan works as hoped.
“So I think it will be much, much cheaper,” Schwarzenegger
said as he signed the bill at an event in Los Angeles.
“It's kind of like with the cell phones, that the
more people buy cell phones, the more the prices came
When the Public Utilities Commission acted
in January, the plan was hailed as another example
of California's leadership in environmental action
while creating a dependable power source.
Solar Initiative is the largest solar program in the
country, and I hope it will be a model for other states,”
Public Utilities Commissioner Dian M. Grueneich said
in a statement in January.
At the bill signing event,
Schwarzenegger took a larger view: “I want to prove
to the rest of the world that you can protect the
environment and also have an economic expansion and
The Republican governor appeared with Assemblyman
Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, and two Democratic
legislators: Sen. Kevin Murray of Culver City, the
author of SB 1, and Assemblyman Lloyd Levine of Sherman
Schwarzenegger and Murray called the bill a
bipartisan accomplishment. Not mentioned was the failure
of the measure last year when the governor rejected
Democratic provisions giving labor unions preference
for solar work under the bill.
After the bill stalled,
the governor asked his appointees on the Public Utilities
Commission to enact the main provisions of the bill
covering the three investor-owned utilities, including
San Diego Gas & Electric.
The bill expands the plan
to municipal utilities, notably the Los Angeles Department
of Water and Power, and added a requirement that new
developments of more than 50 homes begin offering
a solar option in 2011.
The campaign of Schwarzenegger's
Democratic challenger in the November election for
governor, state Treasurer Phil Angelides, issued a
statement calling the bill signing a desperate photo-op
attempt to burnish the governor's environmental credentials.
“While expanding the use of solar energy is a baby-step
in the right direction, Gov. Schwarzenegger has consistently
failed to move California away from its dependence
on foreign oil,” said Nick Papas, an Angelides spokesman.
Murray moved the bill through the Legislature this
year with little public opposition, except from a
consumer group concerned about the rate increase that
will be paid by electricity and natural gas customers.
“Our concern is that most of the customers paying
these rate hikes may not be the ones who see any benefits
from the program,” said Mindy Spatt of The Utility
Reform Network in San Francisco.
Michael Shames of
the Utility Consumers' Action Network in San Diego
said adding more solar power is a good idea. But he
was skeptical about whether the plan would dramatically
lower solar costs. He said a solar program in Germany
didn't live up to expectation, though other consumer
“Solar is economic in some circumstances,
not in others,” Shames said. “It's the start of a
long-term energy process. But it's not going to change
the energy landscape anytime soon.”
for the bill sponsor, Bernadette Del Chiaro of Environment
California, a spin-off from the California Public
Interest Research Group, said she usually agrees with
the two consumer groups, but not in this case.
Chiaro said a similar program in Japan cut solar costs
75 percent. She said solar costs in California have
already dropped 25 percent during the past seven years.
Agreeing with remarks made by Murray at the signing
event, Del Chiaro said the solar program will save
ratepayers money in the long run because they will
not have to pay for expensive new power plants.
bill will raise the number of solar-powered customers
that can sell excess power back into the grid from
0.5 percent of a utility's total load to 2.5 percent.
Although the bill was supported by Sempra Energy,
the parent of SDG&E, the energy firm said the full
cost of metering and distributing excess power from
solar homes should be paid by the program fund.
than 3,000 customers of SDG&E are currently selling
power back into the grid, “net metering” as the industry
calls it, said Ed Van Herik, a spokesman for the utility.
“While customers that are net metering electricity
will realize significant benefits, electrical corporation
customers that are not will suffer significant cost
shifts,” Sempra said in statement about SB 1.
number of customers that sell power has been growing
in recent years, going from 10 completed applications
for net metering in 1999 to 941 last year, Van Herik
All three investor-owned utilities (including
Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric)
currently have about 20,000 homes producing 155 megawatts
of solar power, said Claudia Chandler of the California
If successful, the new plan will
result in a million homes with 3,000 megawatts of
solar power by 2017.
Current law requires investor-owned
utilities to obtain 20 percent of their power from
renewable sources – such as solar, wind, water and
thermal – by 2017, increasing at the rate of at least
1 percent of sales a year.
Details of the plan, the
California Solar Initiative, are available on the
Web site of the Public Utilities Commission: www.cpuc.ca.gov.