Monday, October 31, 2011

California Solar Subsidies Used By Rich But Not Poor

Based on how California policymakers giving subsidies for solar panels placed on the residential roofs, the poorest parts of California have not sufficiently utilized the benefits.

California's ambitious program to convert to solar energy is partially paid for with $3.3 billion provided by the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), spread over 10 years, taken in small slices from utility customers' monthly bills.  The Public Utilities Commission reported earlier this year that California Solar Initiative subsidies have amounted to $885 million so far. They've created 924 megawatts of power spread across 94,900 locations owned by large and small commercial users, and residential customers.

The piece of program reserved for lowest income customers is not quite so robust. The PUC reports solar has been installed on the homes of 862 low-income Californians. People with low income can't afford any piece of it, rebate or no rebate.

The California Public Utilities Commission reports that one residence in the Sonoma County wine town of Glen Ellen received a $372,000 subsidy on a $2.2 million solar installation. A Newcastle residence received a $319,000 subsidy on a $1.45 million installation. In all, 22 residential solar projects received subsidies in excess of $100,000 each, and 71 others received subsidies of $50,000 or more.

The Public Utilities Commission reports that the ZIP code covering the eastern end of Clovis, one of the most tony areas of the Fresno region, received $3.5 million in solar roof subsidies. Down in the flatlands of Fresno, in the southern and western ends of the city, subsidies totaled $40,000.

In three ZIP codes for Malibu, rebates for residential solar installations have amounted to more than $1.5 million. About 13,000 people live there. In three ZIP codes in Compton, home to almost 140,000 people, there was one solar subsidy for $2,269. The same is true in Granite Bay, where there have been $1.3 million in subsidies, and El Dorado Hills, where there have been $1.5 million in subsidies.

In April, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation requiring that utilities get a third of their electricity from renewable sources, in an event at a new solar panel factory in Milpitas, owned by SunPower, the largest manufacturer of solar panels used in the California Solar Initiative.

SunPower executive, called the initiative "wildly successful" with installation prices dropping significantly. The initiative helped spawn an industry that employs several thousand people. The clean energy generated by the panels displaces other types of electricity generated by fossil fuel.

But the rooftop solar business wouldn't exist, at least not in its current form, without various subsidies, including the state rebates and 30 percent federal tax credit.

San Diego Gas & Electric is raising issues related to rooftop solar in filings with the PUC. The utility is seeking to charge solar customers an average of $22 a month to cover transmission, distribution and other overhead costs.

Sempra also is seeking approval of midsize solar arrays that could be installed at power substations, on the roofs of large warehouses, on land that is too polluted for other uses. The company would sell the electrons to apartment dwellers and customers who couldn't afford rooftop solar. It would be far more efficient than placing panels on individual roofs. (Sacramento Bee, 10/31/2011)

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