North Coast Solar Stocks

July 3, 2009

Report issued on success of California’s solar program

Filed under: none — Tags: , , , , — Jason @ 4:13 am

7/3/2009 4:13:28 AM

By Tracy Seipel, San Jose Mercury News

SACRAMENTO, CALIF.: Despite the worst economic downturn in decades, California’s multibillion-dollar program to expand solar power production — the country’s largest — remains on track to install as much new energy this year as last, according to a report issued Tuesday by the California Public Utilities Commission.

Driven by federal and state tax credits, businesses and homes are expected to install 156 megawatts of solar energy — enough to power about 78,000 homes — this year.

Dubbed the “California Solar Initiative,” the program, which was launched in January 2007, seeks to install 3,000 megawatts of new solar power in 10 years and transform the market for solar energy by reducing its cost.

“CSI is a bright spot that shows how government support for renewable energy is working,” said Molly Sterkel, supervisor for the CSI and the report’s project manager. Even given the weakened economy, she said, “customers are deciding to go solar in record numbers, and that’s amazing.”

The 95-page report is the commission’s first official annual self-assessment of the solar initiative.

Among the highlights of Tuesday’s report:

–California has more than 515 megawatts of solar power connected to the electric grid, equivalent to the capacity of one large power plant. Under the solar initiative, 226 megawatts of this was installed in the past 21/2 years.

–The annual rate for new installed solar capacity in California nearly doubled between 2007 and 2008 (from 81 megawatts to 156 megawatts), a marked increase from the 30 percent to 40 percent annual growth rate of prior years.

–The initiative has more than 22,000 solar applications, including both pending and installed systems.

–The program continues to see strong demand, with 1,444 new solar applications in May 2009 — the highest month on record.

–After 2 1/2 years, the CSI has installed 13 percent of the total 10-year program goal, and it has an additional 8 percent in applications pending installation this year.

–Santa Clara County leads the state in the number of current and pending solar installations in the program.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a solar stalwart, also weighed in on the success of the program Tuesday. “The results of today’s report demonstrate what I pictured for this program five years ago,” he said in a statement. “My vision of powering California homes and businesses with the sun is creating green jobs, lowering energy costs for thousands of Californians and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Solar proponents hailed the report as a boost for solar.

“You often hear about the programs that fail,” said Adam Browning, executive director and co-founder of Vote Solar Initiative, a San Francisco nonprofit seeking to bring solar energy into the mainstream. “Here is a program that is literally doing what it was advertised to do. That’s a good story.”

But critics of the CSI program continue to object to the fact that non-solar customers must subsidize rebates and credits paid to solar-power users.

“The good news, of course, is that we’re getting more solar in California,” said Mindy Spatt, communications director for The Utility Reform Network, a consumer watchdog group. “The bad news is that the benefits may not be flowing equally for all the ratepayers who are funding the program.”

Sterkel disagrees with that assessment.

“When customers decide to go solar, they help avoid the need for new power plants, which benefits all customers, not just those who have gone solar.”

Contact Tracy Seipel at tseipel@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5343.

Top 10 counties

Top 10 CSI participating counties by megawatt capacity, from Jan. 1, 2007 to May 27, 2009.

County

Total megawatts

1. Santa Clara

41.2

2. Los Angeles

29.1

3. Alameda

23.2

4. San Diego

22.4

5. San Bernardino

18.9

6. Contra Costa

15.9

7. Fresno

14.6

8. Sonoma

14.0

9. Riverside

13.7

10. Napa

9.2

All other counties

170.6

Total megawatts

372.8

CPUC

Mercury News

Top 10 ZIP codes

Top 10 ZIP codes by megawatt capacity, from Jan. 1, 2007 through May 27, 2009.

Zip code

Megawatts

City

91706

8

Baldwin Park

91761

5

Ontario

94538

4

Fremont

92071

4

Santee

95035

4

Milpitas

95014

4

Cupertino

94551

3

Livermore

93446

3

Paso Robles

93727

3

Fresno

95123

3

San Jose

All other ZIP codes

332

Total megawatts

373

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