Solar for You and Me (Not Just the 1%)

, Senior energy analyst | July 9, 2012, 1:40 pm EDT
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Last week, the California Public Utilities Commission released a report tracking the progress of the California Solar Initiative. This program, more commonly known as the “CSI,” offers customers of the three largest investor-owned utilities in California—Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric—incentives to install solar panels on rooftops. The CSI is the largest solar program in the country and aims to install 1,940 megawatts (MW) of solar generation capacity by the end of 2016.

Record-breaking year for solar in California

In 2011, the CSI had its largest year ever, installing 261 MW of clean energy systems. But what I find most exciting about this latest report is the tremendous growth of installations in areas with median incomes of between $75k and $50k. This segment has grown by 445 percent since 2007 and comprised the largest number of installations in 2011. For areas with a median income of less than $50k, solar installations have grown by 364 percent since 2007. Solar is no longer only for those rich communities on the California coast.

Sources: California Public Utilities Commission and, data through May 30, 2012. 2000 U.S. Census data.

Expanding opportunities for us all to go solar

Solar prices have been falling steadily in the last few years, but a major reason solar is reaching beyond the 1% is the greater number of options to pay for it. Instead of having to plunk down a chunk of change for clean energy on your roof, you can now participate in a leasing program offered by several solar installers. In addition, the state is implementing several, albeit small, programs to offer additional incentives to low-income single and multi-family residences to go solar.

A promising policy making its way through the halls of Sacramento, sponsored by the California Environmental Justice Alliance, would increase the amount of solar installed in low-income communities. The bill AB 1990 (Fong) would require utilities to offer standard, streamlined contracts to solar companies that install solar in low-income communities. Instead of requiring the electricity to be consumed onsite, it would be fed directly to the grid. The rooftops of homes and businesses in some of the most disadvantaged communities in California could become mini clean energy power plants. Click here for more information on AB 1990.

UCS has been supporting the passage of AB 1990 and recently asked our activists to tell legislators to support the bill. It has passed through the Assembly and the Senate Energy committee. Next stop is Appropriations, then the Senate floor. If you would like to stay informed on the progress of this bill and take future actions to support solar energy in California, click here.

For decades, low-income communities have dealt with the health and economic disadvantages associated with living near air and water pollution generated by heavy industry, car and truck exhaust, and fossil-fueled electricity generation. It’s time that these communities have a chance to participate in the economic and environmental benefits that clean, solar generation will provide. AB 1990 is a small, but important step in this direction.

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  • G. Wayne Hild

    This is something that needs to happen in other states. Wasn’t there a federal rebate for such installations several decades ago? Before retiring my plan is to form a nonprofit whose mission statement is ” Promoting the advancement of sustainable lifestyles and disciplines for our changing world.

  • John

    Thank goodness for generous government handouts. We could never do it without them!