The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution that will help promote solar thermal water heating installations as part of the state’s ongoing 10-year, billion-dollar solar initiative program.

As a result, the major private sector utilities — Southern California Gas Co., Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Southern California Edison Co., along with the California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) — will refile by the end of August a compliance advice letter to establish a multi-family and commercial project portion of the “California Solar Initiative (CSI)-Thermal Program Handbook.”

CPUC President Michael Peevey said it was “an important milestone” in the state’s efforts to roll out the solar water heating part of the CSI rebate program.

Last January California established a state rebate program designed to boost solar water heating throughout the service territories of the state’s major private-sector utilities, emphasizing it would reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and create several thousand jobs (see Daily GPI, Jan. 26). As a new $350 million part of the CSI effort, the water heating program included both natural gas and electric water heating. It was also touted as good for the environment and the economy by the author of the state law (AB 1470), which directed the CPUC to create programs backed by utility ratepayer funds.

On Thursday Peevey said the CPUC’s latest action “finalizes many of the complex issues related to installing solar thermal water heating in multi-family residential and commercial buildings.” The upcoming filing by the three utilities and the program administrator, San Diego-based CCSE, representing San Diego Gas and Electric Co., “must reflect the direction we have given in this resolution,” he said.

Once the CPUC’s energy division accepts the new advice letter filing, applications will be accepted for solar thermal water heating rebates in the multi-family and commercial sectors.

Eventually, up to 5% of the GHG emission reductions needed by 2020 to comply with California’s global climate change law (AB 32), which is effective in 2012 , can come from this solar water heating effort, according to Sacramento-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.

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