California achieved a major milestone when it crossed 1 GW of installed solar power capacity through the California Solar Initiative (CSI) recently, the state regulators have just reported. The initiative accounts for about 50% of the total solar power capacity installed in California.
According to the state regulators, San Jose City has installed the greatest amount (54.6 MW) on homes and commercial buildings, with installations including those of eBay and the San Jose Unified School District. San Jose is followed by San Diego, Bakersfield, and Fresno, which installed capacities of 51.3 MW, 31.4 MW, and 28.9 MW, respectively.
California Solar Initiative (CSI) aims to install approximately 1,940 MW of new solar power capacity with a budget of $2.167 billion by the end of 2016. It is the solar rebate program for customers of three investor-owned utilities – Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E). The California Solar Initiative is funded by electric ratepayers, and the California Solar Initiative-Thermal portion of the program is funded by gas ratepayers.
California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has announced that CSI’s tally of new rooftop solar reached 1,066 megawatts at the end of December (i.e. 55% of the 1,940 MW goal).
“California has the most customer-side solar installations of any state in the nation,” said Michael Peevey, president of the California Public Utilities Commission. “This is a tremendous milestone for California and a testament to the success of the California Solar Initiative.”
In PG&E’s Northern California territory alone, 558 MW have been installed. With 75,000 customers, PG&E has the highest number of solar customers of any utility in the world. Customers are provided with net metering, which allows homeowners and businesses to offset the cost of their electricity use with the energy generated from their rooftop solar power and sent back to the grid.
CSI offers financial incentives which are designed to decline with years as solar technology use becomes widespread. When the program was launched in 2007, consumers used to get rebates as high as $2.50 per watt from their solar power systems, but now with the widespread adoption of solar in the region, the incentives have declined considerably (i.e. just 20 cents a watt in PG&E territory).
“Incentives are falling quickly,” said Melicia Charles, solar program manager for the CPUC. “It’s happening much faster than many expected.”
Despite considerable decline in the rebates in the past few years, PG&E remains the most popular utility among customers. The utility adds approximately 1,000 new net metering customers every year and insists on revising the current net metering policy.
The California Solar Initiative program has been popular since the very beginning. In February 2009, PG&E received 11 Megawatts worth of “Non-Residential Reservation Requests” for installations from California businesses. This was the highest MW total in one day that PG&E had seen at that time. The program is currently reviewing proposals to set up 332 MW of solar power projects. The popularity of California Solar Initiative is possibly due to the significant benefits it brings to the generators and the utilities.
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