Another chapter in California’s growing attempts to harness its abundance of solar energy was written in the wee hours Wednesday morning when the state legislature passed a statewide incentive program for solar water heating (AB 1470). The measure will now go to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is expected to sign it, according to the environmental group that helped craft the bill. The final Assembly vote was 43-29.

“The prospective new law would launch the nation’s largest solar water heating program, creating a $250 million fund to provide rebates to homeowners and businesses who install solar water heating technologies,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate for Environment California, a sponsor of AB 1470.

Del Chiaro’s hope is that the new law will create “a world class, mainstream market” for solar water heating technologies over the next 10 years, during which California also will have its solar photovoltaic (PV) initiative providing several billion dollars in rebates to homes and businesses for electricity-producing solar units.

Like most of the energy legislative measures this year when it was passed by the Assembly initially last June, AB 1470 backers promoted it as is being another means of mitigating global warming and helping to achieve energy independence (see Daily GPI, June 8).

“This is another form of solar power that is currently underutilized in the United States but is thriving in European and Asian countries,” said Del Chiaro, after last June’s passage. Her group was one of the key proponents of AB 1470, which was authored by Assembly member Jared Huffman. The measure is supported by “hundreds of organizations and businesses,” Del Chiaro said.

“The changes we made to the bill make it governor-friendly,” she told NGI. “It returns to previous language directing the California Public Utilities Commission [CPUC] to exempt low-income ratepayers from paying the 13 cents-per-month surcharge based on enrollment in the CPUC’s already existing low-income assistance programs.”

AB 1470 is supposed to be very similar to the so-called Million Solar Roofs program (SB1 from last year) that is now in effect, and for which interest is growing among homes and small businesses, according to a report at the CPUC last Thursday. AB 1470 will provide rebates for solar water heating systems that displace natural gas use, drawing its funding from a monthly surcharge on customers’ bills.

“California relies predominately on natural gas to meet its water heating needs,” Del Chiaro said. “This leads to heavy dependence on imported fossil fuels and air pollution; solar water heating can reduce the amount of gas needed to heat water in homes and businesses by 50-75%.”

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