Southern California environment news and trends

California’s shared clean energy bill wins pivotal vote

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Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

A field of solar panels.

SB 843, the proposed California legislation slated to expand renewable energy access to all residents took a big step forward yesterday when it passed the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee in a landslide victory with a vote margin of 9-2.

“I was the guy at the table testifying and trying to answer questions,” explained Tom Price of solar investment firm CleanPath Ventures about the hearing when reached by phone. He sat alongside Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis), the author of the bill. “It went incredibly well. We had a line through the back door of people wanting to support it, ranging from the Department of Defense to churches and schools. The opposing side was all utilities. But I don’t think we’re really all that far apart.”

As we reported earlier this year, if passed, the legislation would allow California residents to purchase up 100 percent renewable energy from large-scale community facilities and receiving credit on the corresponding bills from the state’s major utilities, including PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric. Potentially, the credits could offset those bills completely.


CPUC approval for net energy meeting boosts solar industry and its customers for a few more years

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David McNew/Getty Images

Employees of Solar Forward install solar electric panels on a residential rooftop on February 27, 2009 in Santa Monica, California.

A few years ago, when I was first covering solar leasing, net metering was a big deal. “Look! The meter is spinning backwards,” the solar company dude said proudly. “That’s money in the homeowner’s pocket right there.”

The California Public Utilities Commission continues to share the solar industry’s enthusiasm for net energy metering. Today the PUC expanded a subsidy for this kind of arrangement by clarifying the language under which the subsidy is offered. According to the PUC, “doubles the amount of solar systems that can benefit from NEM, providing the benefits of solar energy to many more customers.”

Investor owned utilities must participate in the program, which requires them to pay customers for the full market value of the electricity they generate. Houses and businesses with qualified energy systems smaller than 1 MW can zero out their expenses for electricity. Without the clarification, northern and central California investor owned utility PG&E could fill up the program really soon. The effect of the clarification is to buy the solar industry more time to contribute to the state’s economy.


New bill aims to give all Californians clean energy options

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Jaime Rius/AFP/Getty Images

When it comes to renewable energy, millions of Californians (more than 75 percent of all households) are unable to participate for any number of reasons. Primary among those reasons: Renting instead of owning a home. A proposed new bill is aiming to remove that restriction and offer clean energy options to those millions of renters and more residents currently unable to do so.

As reported by the Davis Enterprise, Democratic State Senator Lois Wolk debuted Senate Bill 843 last week, with the intention of offering the option to said renters and other California power consumers.

“This bill would give millions of Californians the option to buy a portion of the power that is generated at a community renewable energy facility off site and to receive a credit on their utility bill for the clean energy that they purchase,” Wolk said at a Davis news conference last Friday (May 11).


PG&E wants to offer utility customers more green options

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Jaime Rius/AFP/Getty Images

California’s largest utility this week has proposed a new way to support green energy.

Dubbed the “Green Option,” the program would allow Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s five million customers in cities like Napa, San Jose and Berkeley the chance to pay an average of $6 more per bill to help fund renewable energy solutions like wind farms and solar plants. According to a press release from PG&E, the proposal recently sent to the California Public Utilities Commission is the result of customer demand.

"On behalf of our customers, PG&E is already one of the largest suppliers of renewable energy in the country," said Helen Burt, senior vice president and chief customer officer of PG&E in the release. "We have heard from many of our customers, however, who want to do even more to support clean energy and the green economy. Our Green Option, backed by an independent third-party's environmental certification, will give them that choice."


What's the German word for bankrupt? Blythe Solar Power Project's parent seeks protection

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Parabolic solar would have delivered solar power for the Blythe Power Project, until Solar Trust switched to PV panels. What happens now is anybody's guess.

While I've been off participating in the daily dispensation of justice under the law, a big solar project in Riverside County is hitting the skids. Solar Millennium is the German parent company behind Solar Trust, the Oakland-based company backing the Blythe Solar Power Project, and it's seeking Deutsche court protection for its debts.

Blythe's Solar Power Project won more than 2 million dollars in loan guarantees from the federal Department of Energy last year. Cue the turmoil: originally slated to use parabolic photovoltaic technology, plans shifted when project managers later ran the numbers and figured out that using solar photovoltaic panels penciled out better, largely because the price of PV had dropped precipitously. That forced the Solar Trust of America to gave up the loan guarantee