Environmental, solar industry and government officials in California praised a new state rebate program designed to boost solar water heating throughout the service territories of the state’s major private-sector utilities, claiming it will help greatly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and create several thousand new jobs. The new $350 million program attributable to both natural gas and electric water heating was touted as good for the environment and the economy by the author of the state law (AB 1470) that directed the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to create programs backed by utility ratepayer funds.

With one of the largest solar water heating programs ever, “California can achieve greater energy independence, fight global warming, and save homeowners and businesses money by encouraging a mainstream market for solar water heating,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, a Democrat and state lawmaker from Marin County north of San Francisco, speaking after the CPUC took its action last Thursday (see Daily GPI, Jan. 25).

Up to 5% of the GHG emission reductions needed by 2020 to comply with California’s global climate change law (AB 32) that is effective in 2012 can come from this solar water heating effort, according to Sacamento-based nonprofit group Environment California. “Growing California’s solar water heating market will create green jobs, cut global warming pollution and save Californians money,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, the group’s clean energy advocate.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the CPUC action “brings us even closer to achieving the goals of the California Solar Initiative. In 2004 I said that we could increase energy efficiency by harnessing the power of the sun, and we have made incredible progress. Families and businesses up and down the state are saving money and cleaning our air using solar. This incentive will further encourage Californians to invest in solar technology to heat their water, creating more green jobs and moving our green economy forward.”

The statewide solar initiative was first conceived in 2004 when Schwarzenegger expanded state support for solar and announced an ambitious “Million Solar Roofs Program.” The solar program is the largest segment of the original Million Solar Roofs vision. Other components include the California Energy Commission’s New Solar Homes Program for homebuilderes and solar initiatives offered by the state’s publicly owned utilities, such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Powere and Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

Solar water heating could reduce global warming pollution by 6.8 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. This represents 5% of the total reductions needed to meet the state’s greenhouse gas emissions cap by 2020, according to Environment California.

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