California has moved renewable energy and environmental responsibility to new levels with the passage of a solar power bill and two pieces of greenhouse gas emissions legislation. The solar power law raises net metering ceilings for utilities by five times from their previous levels. One climate bill will establish a cap on greenhouse gas emissions in California and could lead other states to take a similar step. The second climate bill establishes a greenhouse gas performance standard applicable to baseload power plants selling to the California market.
SB1 – Million Solar Roofs Bill
Resurrected again this session, the solar bill has been signed into law. The bill reiterates and supplements the California Public Utilities Commission’s $2.9 billion California Solar Initiative (see previous story in Democratic Energy). The new law extends the PUC solar energy incentives initiative to publicly-owned utilities – municipal and cooperatives. Including the publicly-owned utilities, the PUC must limit the cost of the California Solar Initiative to $3.35 billion over the next 10 years.
The law requires the PUC to order electric service providers to expand the availability of net energy metering (the ability to sell excess solar electricity back to the utility) so that it is offered on a first-come-first-served basis until the time that the total rated generating capacity used by all eligible customer-generators exceeds 2.5% of the electric service provider’s aggregate customer peak demand.
A weaker part of the new law is that beginning in January 2011, sellers of new homes in developments of more than 50 units must offer solar electricity of at least 1kW as an option for the homes.
The sellers must disclose the total installed cost of the solar energy system option and the estimated cost savings associated with the solar energy system option.
AB 32 – California Global Warming Solutions Act
This bill is awaiting a promised signature by the Governor and would require the nation’s most populous state and the world’s 12th largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 (a reduction by about 25 percent from current levels).
The new initiative will work by imposing broad caps on GHG greenhouse-gas emissions that would apply to the state’s major industries such as utility plants, oil and gas refineries, and cement kilns. One of the key mechanisms designed to drive the reductions is a market program that will allow businesses to buy, sell and trade emission credits with other companies.
The bill includes a "safety valve" that would allow California’s governor to delay the emission-cap mandate if the state is hit with a natural disaster, terrorist attack or some other emergency.
SB 1368 – Greenhouse Gas Emissions Performance Standard Act
This bill, awaiting the Governor’s signature, establishes a greenhouse gas (GHG) performance standard applicable to “baseload” generation resources that seek to sell into California electricity markets. The new standard prohibits any more long-term investments in power plants unless their air emissions are as low, or lower, than emissions from a clean and efficient natural gas power plants.