Solar energy relies on a fuel source that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and sunshine is not currently being traded at high per-barrel prices. These facts have prompted many Californians to push for solar technology to have a larger role in the future of energy production. Recently, support has begun to grow in Sacramento for two bills that would make solar energy systems more appealing to California residents.
The first of these bills is the Surplus Solar Bill, or Assembly Bill 920, which passed the California State Assembly on June 1. AB 920 would change the relationship between utility providers and people who own solar energy systems, such as rooftop solar panels. Currently, through a process called “net metering,” solar energy system owners receive credit from the power company for any energy that they put back into the power grid during the day, so that they will pay less for the electricity that they use at night. However, if a system is feeding more energy into the power grid than it receives from the grid on an annual basis, the power company simply gets this extra energy for free. If AB 920 become law, the state senate and is approved by the governor, power companies would compensate solar energy system owners for any surplus electricity that they are adding to the grid yearly. “If the bill passes, people will install more solar to earn money for the surplus,” said Aaron Luckett of California Solar Electric, a solar tech installation company located in Santa Barbara. This is a large step for the solar energy movement, and supporters of the bill hope that lowering the financial burden of solar panels will encourage California residents to embrace renewable energy sources.
On July 7, a second piece of solar energy legislation made it over one of the largest hurdles that it will face on its journey to the state senate floor. The California net metering bill, AB 560, passed through the California State Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee, with an impressive 9-to-1 vote in favor. According to Adam Browning, the Vote Solar Initiative’s executive director, this was the most pivotal moment for the bill, and from here it should get the green light all the way to implementation.
AB 560 calls for an increase in the maximum amount of energy that can be put back into the power grid by solar energy system owners in return for a credit with the power company. Currently, the cap is set at 2.5 percent: Power companies are not obligated to extend any credit beyond 2.5 percent of the grid’s total peak demand. “We aren’t too far from reaching this limit,” Browning said, since so many systems are already feeding solar energy back into the grid. AB 560 will double the cap currently in place, allowing owners of private solar systems to receive credits for supplying up to 5 percent of peak energy demand. This would win the solar industry some breathing room, at least for the next few years, by maintaining the allure of the systems for prospective customers.