Solar panel technology has been around for decades…but not many people have panels on their roofs. Solar energy is the ultimate clean power source, but it’s also expensive and that’s kept most people away. But regulators in one state are hoping to change that. The state’s Public Utilities Commission recently approved a 3-billion dollar fund to give homeowners and businesses hefty rebates if they install solar panels. It’s the first program of its kind and size in the nation. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamara Keith reports:
Solar panel technology has been around for decades…but not many
people have panels on their roofs. Solar energy is the ultimate clean
power source, but it’s also expensive and that’s kept most people away.
But regulators in one state are hoping to change that. The state’s Public
Utilities Commission recently approved a 3-billion dollar fund to give
homeowners and businesses hefty rebates if they install solar panels. It’s
the first program of its kind and size in the nation. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Tamara Keith reports:
A little over a year ago, Chuck Wingo and his wife Pam moved into a
new house in an innovative housing development. Their house, like all
the others in the neighborhood, is equipped with bank solar panels, built
right into the roof like shingles.
“These are the 2 meters that are on the house. It’s simple. One uses for
our usage, what we use, and the other one is from the solar panels, what we
Chuck says sometimes he walks to the side of his California house and
just watches the solar meter spin.
“We check it all the time, what’s even better is checking the bills. The
bills are great, we paid 16-dollars for our usage in August, the hottest
month in Sacramento. So, it’s kind of cool.”
The Wingo’s weren’t big environmentalists before moving into this
house, but Pam says when she heard about this development, something
“The idea just sounded, if you’re going to move, do it right at least. Do
something pro-active about where you’re going to be living and spending
your money. It’s really good for everybody, for the country. We all
should be living like this so we’re not wasting out energy.”
And many more Californians will be living that way, if the California
Solar Initiative lives up to its promise. State energy regulators approved
the initiative, which will add a small fee to utility bills in order to create a
3-billion dollar fund. That fund is designed to make solar panels more
It starts by offering rebates to consumers who buy them. Bernadette Del
Chiaro – a clean energy advocate with Environment California – says
once those panels get cheaper, the marketplace goes to work…
“The problem with solar power today is its cost. Most of us can’t afford
an extra 20-thousand dollars to equip our home with solar panels, and
what we’re doing in California is saying, we’re going to get the cost of
solar power down. By growing the market 30 fold in the next 10 years,
we’re going to be able to cut the cost of solar panels in half.”
Last year, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to get the California
legislature to approve something similar. That plan got bogged down in
state politics … so he took it to the Public Utilities Commission. While
the commission can raise the money, there are some parts of this
revamped solar program that have to be legislated.
Democratic State Senator Kevin Murray has worked with the Republican
Governor on solar power issues. He says he plans to introduce a new bill
that would require solar panels be included as an option on all new
homes built in the state.
“Rather than some specialized left-wing alternative kind of thing, we want it to
be in the mainstream, so that when you go in to buy a new home, you
pick your tile and you pick your carpet and you pick your solar system.
So, that would have to be done legislatively and the other thing that would
have to be done legislatively is raise the net metering cap so that if you’re
selling energy back to the grid, you can get compensated for it.”
The new program would also target businesses, even farms. Public
Utilities Commissioner Dian Grueneich says she hopes this doesn’t stop
“I’m very, very excited. This is the largest program in the country
and I’m hoping that other states will look at this program as well, so that
it’s not just something in California but helping other states.”
And if the solar power initiative is a success in California, backers say
it’s good news for consumers all over the country. Much like the hybrid
car, made cool by Hollywood celebrities… California leaders hope they
can make solar trendy and more affordable for everyone.
For the GLRC, I’m Tamara Keith.