July 5, 2005

Schwarzenegger solar power bill faces Calif. test

By Leonard Anderson

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California leads the UnitedStates in solar power generation but a bill sponsored by Gov.Arnold Schwarzenegger that would sharply expand sun power useis drawing fire as too costly for utility customers andmanufacturers.

The bill aims to put photovoltaic solar panels on the roofsof one million new homes and businesses within 10 years,increasing solar generation from a current 100 megawatts tomore than 3,000 megawatts, equivalent to 30 new "peaking"plants to deliver electricity during high-demand periods.

That would make California the world's third largest solarenergy producer behind Japan and Germany, according to solaradvocacy group Environment California.

"Building a million solar roofs will make this common-sensetechnology mainstream and cost-effective in a decade," saidBernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate for EnvironmentCalifornia.

The bill, drafted by state senators John Campbell, aRepublican, and Democrat Kevin Murray, is scheduled for a voteon Wednesday in the Assembly's Utilities and CommerceCommittee. The measure has already passed the Senate.

Utilities like the Pacific Gas & Electric unit of PG&ECorp., manufacturing groups and pro-consumer advocate TheUtility Reform Network say the measure is too costly at anestimated $2.5 billion.

Most of the bill for the program would be paid by utilitycustomers through a surcharge set by the California PublicUtilities Commission, plus rebates on solar equipment and otherincentives.

The California Manufacturers and Technology Association,which represents about 600 large commercial and industrialcompanies, said the legislation would hit its members with toomuch of the program's costs.

"Electricity rates for manufacturers in California are waytoo high, nearly twice as high as in other states in the West,"Joseph Lyons, energy lobbyist for the CMTA, said.

Del Chiaro of Environment California said the solar planwould more than recover its costs by a reduced use of powerplants running on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.

Schwarzenegger's energy plans call for making renewableenergy 20 percent of California's electricity resources by2017.