The lower house Assembly in the California legislature late Wednesday passed a bill (AB 1470) that, with Senate approval, could create the nation's largest solar water heating program. Promoted as a complement to the state's aggressive decade-long rooftop solar push, it would create a $250 million, 10-year program providing consumer rebates for solar thermal water heating systems.

Like most of the energy legislative measures being pushed these days, AB 1470 is being cited as another means of mitigating global warming and helping to achieve energy independence.

"This is another form of solar power that is currently underutilized in the Untied States but is thriving in European and Asian countries," said Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate in Sacramento for Environment California. The group is one of the key proponents of AB 1470, which is authored by Assembly member Jared Huffman. The measure is supported by "hundreds of organizations and businesses," Del Chiaro said.

Environment California positioned AB 1470 as complementary to the "Million-Solar-Roofs" law (SB 1), which was passed last year, promoting solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies for producing on-site electricity at homes and small businesses. In the water heating approach to solar, sun-heated water from the roof is stored for later use, with a conventional natural gas or electric water heater needed only as a backup.

"By cutting the amount of natural gas by 50-75% that is needed to heat water [gas is used in more than 90% of the homes and business for water heating in California], solar water heating systems can lower energy bills, reduce global warming pollution and make the state more independent of imported fossil fuels," Del Chiaro said.

Environment California published a report earlier this year titled "Solar Water Heating: How California Can Reduce Its Dependence on Natural Gas." It stressed three benefits: greater energy independence, a healthier environment and lower retail utility energy bills.

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