California has expanded its statewide solar initiative, the million solar roofs program now in its fourth year, with a thermal-based program supported by $350 million for residential and business customer rebates. The state’s major retail natural gas and electric utilities are implementing the new part of the California Solar Initiative (CSI).

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) announced the program Monday, noting that since May 1 residential customers of Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Southern California Edison Co. and Sempra Energy’s two utilities, San Diego Gas and Electric Co. and Southern California Gas Co. Residential customers can seek up to $1,875 in rebates for installing solar water heating systems in single-family homes.

“The rebates will help homes and businesses both defray the cost of installing high-quality solar water heaters that can significantly lower water heating bills, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cut California’s dependence on fossil fuels,” a CPUC spokesperson said. Rebates for businesses and multi-family buildings also will be available, but not until this summer.

CSI was conceived as providing rebates to customers installing solar photovoltaic electric generation systems. CSI-Thermal is the latest addition to that as part of the state’s overall “Go Solar California” campaign. “The goal of the thermal program is to grow a competitive, sustainable solar water heating industry in California that benefits the environment while providing local jobs for skilled engineers, manufacturers, installers and sales people,” the spokesperson said.

Under the thermal program, all systems eligible for rebates are required to be certified by the state’s Solar Rating and Certification Corp. The amounts of the rebates are based on the certification firm’s estimate of each system’s annual energy production, the CPUC said. “The typical system displacing natural gas will initially qualify for an incentive of $1,500, and the average electric-displacing system will qualify for an incentive of $1,000.

Over the life of the program, the incentive levels will decline in four steps, the CPUC said. This is supposed to spur market transformation CSI-Thermal is expected to run for eight years through 2017, or until the $350 million in funds is exhausted.

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