California Approves Multiple Green Energy Reforms

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Governor Jerry Brown signed several major pieces of energy legislation last week, keeping California on the cutting edge of the green industry boom.

Senate Bill 594 (SB 594) allows utility customers to apply the financial credit from solar installations to their overall energy bill for a plot or connected plots. Previously a utility customer could only apply credits from a solar array to the meter the installation was attached to.

Starting January 1, they will be able to apply the credits to any meters on the property or adjacent properties owned by the same person or organization. Currently, if a property produces more power than a single meter actually uses then the excess power production can be applied to other meters on or near the property. The rule change will mostly effect commercial, farmland, educational or industrial property owners, as most residential properties don’t have multiple meters per unit.

Aaron Jobson, principal at Quattrocchi Kwok Architects, explained he worked with a school district that wanted to share a solar array across several schools on adjacent properties.

“What the district wanted to do was to be able to build one large ground-mounted solar farm and basically have that one large installation feed to meters at all of these schools.”

He said that wasn’t possible before, as they had to “build a separate system at each school and have that tie into each meter. So there’s physical wires that go from that solar system to the meter and the longer those wires are, the more electricity you lose in that process so you don’t want to make them that long. So we had three or four separate arrays to tie into these different meters.”

This meant rather than build them in a wide-open field that made the most sense, they had to locate them near each school, which cost more money and put them in areas where they were cluttering up space the schools use routinely.

"By removing unnecessary and restrictive requirements, this legislation will encourage greater participation in this program, which plays an important role in efforts to reach California’s renewable energy goals and offers customers an opportunity to save on their energy bill,” said state senator Lois Wolk, D-Davis, author of SB 594.

Proponents of SB 594 argued that utility companies were providing a disincentive for schools and farms to add solar arrays by only allowing financial credits to be applied to meters connected to the photovoltaic panels themselves. This would force large landowners to either expend funds to arbitrarily connect all their facilities, or create a separate solar array for each meter, neither of which were cost effective or sensible ways to organize schools or farms. This means some farmers might have had to run lines across great distances between buildings that have no other reason to be connected, other than to meet the arbitrary requirement.

This bill builds upon the success of SB 489, also written by Wolk, which extended the net energy metering program to more forms of renewable energy, allowing farms to receive credit for finding green uses for renewable byproducts of their operations.

The governor approved SB 1222 as well, which will limit the extent to which local governments can charge permit fees for residential and commercial solar systems. This will cut down on a massive variation in fees from one area of the state to another, with costs ranging from $50 in Los Altos Hills to $13,000 in Brisbane for the same commercial-size solar installation. The move will create a more universal incentive for property owners to go solar, while allowing counties to maintain their own fee systems for other construction projects.

Governor Brown also signed SB 1409, which will increase coordination between the state and the U.S. Department of Defense on energy and environmental policy, since the military is a regular source of new technology and a significant energy consumer in any state.

“SB 1409 recognizes the existing partnership between the military and California in the development of renewable energy technology, resources and the large potential for future enhancement of this partnership,” said Christopher L. Stathos, deputy Department of Defense regional environmental coordinator in a letter supporting SB 1409. “With the military’s aggressive renewable energy goals, and California’s leadership and innovation, SB 1409 provides the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research additional tools that will enable further success.”

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