Recently, the California State Legislature has been considering two bills that would make solar energy systems more affordable and desirable to residents.
The Surplus Solar Bill passed the California State Assembly and is being considered by the State Senate. The bill would allow owners of solar energy systems to recoup more money from their utility providers. Through a process called “net metering,” solar system owners currently receive credit from the power company for any energy they feed back into the power grid, possibly reducing their utility bill to $0. However, if the consumer’s solar system generates a surplus amount of power, at the end of the year that electricity goes to the utility for free. Such a system fails to reward energy conservation.
"We found a lot of people that own solar systems that are generating this surplus on an annual basis," says Bernadette Del Chiaro with Environment California. "They're doing things like putting up more Christmas lights in the winter time or installing electric hot tubs, something that eats up the surplus electrons as opposed to feeding it back into the grid."
If the Surplus Solar Bill becomes law, utility companies would have to compensate solar energy system owners for any surplus electricity that they supply to the grid. Environmental groups hope the bill will encourage more California residents to use solar power.
“If the bill passes, people will install more solar to earn money for the surplus,” said Aaron Luckett of California Solar Electric.
The bill would also allow utilities who buy the surplus power to count that electricity toward their renewable energy goals. The state of California will require investor-owned utilities to receive 20% of their power from renewable sources by the end of 2010.
A second bill recently passed out of the senate’s Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee; it would increase the maximum amount of energy that can be sent back into the power grid by solar energy system owners -- in return for a utility credit. The current cap does not obligate power companies to give credit beyond 2.5% of the grid’s total peak demand.
Since an increasing number of consumers are feeding solar energy back into the grid, the 2.5% cap may soon be realized. This bill would double the cap to 5%, continuing to encourage consumers to consider solar systems.
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