Incentives to rise for home solar arrays

February 26, 2010 By Margot Roosevelt

At least 10 times a day Andrew Kin clicks onto the Internet for the pure joy of watching his electricity meter run backward.

The 30-year-old business consultant placed an array of rooftop on his Los Angeles area duplex last fall, and thanks to a Web site provided by his installer he has watched his monthly electricity bills drop, in real time, from $50 to about $10.

"I make up a little chart every day," Kin said. "This past week was sunny, so I was electricity neutral about every other day, which I'm excited about."

Friday, Gov. is expected to sign legislation that will make it possible for more Californians to sell the electricity they produce back to their utilities at retail prices.

The legislation, written by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, a Democrat, doubles to 5 percent the overall amount of energy that California's investor-owned utilities must buy back.

Previously, state law required electric companies to sign so-called net-metering contracts for up to only 2.5 percent of their load.

Solar advocates said the net-metering boost would allow consumers to recoup their investment faster, which is critical to California's goal of installing a million rooftop arrays by 2017.

Roughly 50,000 California homes benefit from net-metering today, a number that would need to grow rapidly if the state is to reach its goal of obtaining 3,000 megawatts from rooftop solar.

California leads the nation in , accounting for more than 65 percent of all the solar installed in the U.S., Skinner said. "Net metering has been absolutely fundamental to that success," she said.

But public and private utilities have been wary of encouraging rooftop solar installations, preferring large, centralized arrays.

Many of these big plants -- which are proposed to be built in environmentally fragile desert regions and require transmission lines through populated areas -- have attracted controversy.

The 2.5 percent rooftop solar cap, originally set into law at the utilities' insistence, would have halted new net-metering contracts for businesses, schools and consumers served by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. by next year. It would have eventually done the same at other utilities.

The state's major investor-owned utilities, which endorse the new 5 percent cap, had fought off two earlier bills, one to eliminate the cap altogether, and another to raise it to 10 percent.

"California has millions of buildings, the vast majority of which could host a solar system," said energy specialist Bernadette del Chiaro of the nonprofit group Environment California.

"We haven't reached our true potential for solar power, partly because of a lack of support by utilities who still see customer-owned solar power as a threat to their business model. California should ultimately not limit the number of people capable of going solar, plain and simple, even if that is what utilities clamor for."

Public utilities such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power do not have a mandated cap, but solar advocates have been critical of the DWP's commitment. The utility has only 2,941 installed and pending rooftop systems representing only 0.6 percent of its power load.

Nonetheless, Kin said that the $22,000 cost of his solar rooftop system dropped to $8,000 with $11,000 in incentives from DWP, plus tax breaks.

During the day, when he's not home, his panels feed to the DWP. At night, when he returns, he turns on lights and television, and sucks power from the grid as in most homes.

Explore further: California announces new solar power plan

0 shares

Related Stories

California announces new solar power plan

January 25, 2006

The California Public Utilities Commission has approved a new solar initiative, with a goal of 3,000 megawatts of solar power generation capacity.

Californians bask in solar energy

January 4, 2007

Soaring energy costs, environmental consciousness and financial incentives have combined to make solar panels part of the California housing landscape.

Study finds cloudy outlook for solar panels

February 21, 2008

Despite increasing popular support for solar photovoltaic panels in the United States, their costs far outweigh the benefits, according to a new analysis by Severin Borenstein, a professor at the University of California, ...

Schwarzenegger to veto renewable energy bills

September 13, 2009

(AP) -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office said Saturday that he would veto legislation requiring a third of California's energy to come from renewable sources by 2020, choosing instead to mandate the change through an ...

Checklist for going solar

December 4, 2009

With the sun setting before 5 p.m., solar power may be the last thing on your mind these days. But declining panel prices ans a federal tax credit make now a good time to at least investigate whether solar power might make ...

Recommended for you

Cellphones can steal data from 'air-gapped computers'

July 28, 2015

Researchers at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) Cyber Security Research Center have discovered that virtually any cellphone infected with a malicious code can use GSM phone frequencies to steal critical information ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

david_42
not rated yet Feb 26, 2010
Selling power to the utilities at 4 cents a kwh and buying it back at 14 cents. Makes sense to me.
ormondotvos
not rated yet Feb 26, 2010
Actually, it's sold to PGE at peak hours, at 75c and bought at regular, 14c. Solar panels peak during air conditioning loads.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.