CA energy policy boosts solar even with rooftop exclusion

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California's new energy policy is great for solar

California’s new energy policy will ensure the sun keeps shining on the state’s solar industry even if it’s not likely to benefit the residential rooftop market.

The new energy policy passed by California legislators last week and waiting for a signature from Governor Jerry Brown, will require utilities to get 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and for building owners to double the efficiency of their properties by the same time.

The bill, which passed 51 to 26 in the Senate and 26 to 14 in the House, was not without controversy. The version that passed lacked some of the most aggressive measures included in the original proposal, such as increased fuel efficiency requirements for vehicles.

Solar advocates were disappointed that legislation won’t count rooftop solar toward utility goals. It means many of the incentives likely to emerge from utility companies following Brown’s signature won’t help to bolster that sector of the solar industry.

Of course, since well more than half of all solar installations in the state are already rooftop solar, excluding residential installations from the count also means utilities will have to invest more.

The legislation is expected to spur $8.6 billion in private investment in the state. From utility companies to real estate owners and developers, there will be a slew of new green economy jobs sprouting from required projects.  

While the mandates set goals, utility companies and building owners have the freedom to choose how they will meet those goals, which could spawn some creative and cost-saving solutions.

The benefit to the local new energy economy could exceed $10 billion, according to estimates from the California Solar Energy Industries Association, which heavily supported the initiative even though it excluded rooftop solar from the count.

“This is a huge win,” said Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for California SEIA. The organization is still hopeful rooftop solar will get a piece of the pie. That remains to be seen when California regulators consider rules later this year about how residential and small business solar is sold back onto the grid.

Regardless, increased investment in clean energy and energy efficiency will create a culture even more conducive to solar installations than the already exists in the state with more installed solar capacity than any other.