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California Has Aggressive Solar Goals

The state is hitting some of its targets on big-time solar pledges and pushing for more aggressive standards.

California’s got lots of solar-powered ambition.

State leaders have set some of the nation’s most aggressive renewable energy goals to push back against climate change.

And they’ve helped the state transition to solar as a leading renewable energy source. Indeed, California become the first state to get more than 5 percent of its power from solar panels last year – a figure that doesn’t even include rooftop systems.

The solar industry is approaching a crossroads because some programs that helped usher in the state’s solar explosion are phasing out. That means future solar customers will face a different cost equation as the state tries to meet major goals that bank on increased investments in the technology.

But in two cases, the state will have passed the finish line before those changes hit.

There are clear reasons in each case. One goal has forced utilities to ramp up the power they’re getting from renewables and that’s helped the state exceed its targets for large-scale projects. The other success story gave home and business owners rebates to go solar, making the decision easier for those with hefty energy bills.

Meanwhile, a slowdown in home building also slowed a state push to put solar panels on new homes.

Here’s a rundown of the targets already on the table, plus another couple that Gov. Jerry Brown and San Diego leaders are eager to add to the list.

The goal: Utilities should get at least 33 percent of the power they supply to customers from renewable sources, including solar, by 2020.

Status update: San Diego Gas & Electric says it’s hit 32 percent and a spokeswoman said the utility expects to reach 33 percent sometime this year. By comparison, SoCal Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric report their renewable mixes at about 23.5 percent and 27 percent, respectively. Right now, they aren’t factoring rooftop solar into the equation because it isn’t cost effective for the utilities.

But Brown and others are encouraging the state to hike that target. Brown says he’d like renewables to make up 50 percent of utilities’ power mixes by 2030. A Senate bill that could make that happen is making its way through the committee process.

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The goal: A 2006 Senate bill pushed Californians to up power production from rooftop solar statewide by 3,000 megawatts by 2017 and install solar systems on 50 percent of new homes by 2020. An incentive program known as the California Solar Initiative was created to help make that happen.

To put this in perspective, the national Solar Industries Association estimates a single megawatt of solar energy produced by a California-based panel could power 216 homes.

There were three parts to the big 3,000 megawatt target:

Investor-owned utilities like SDG&E were on the line to facilitate the installation of a total of 1,940 megawatts of solar power on commercial buildings and existing homes. (The nonprofit Center for Sustainable Energy handles SDG&E’s solar programs.)

SDG&E and the other two big utilities in the state needed to help add 360 megawatts of rooftop solar through the New Solar Homes Partnership.

Publicly owned utilities like those in Sacramento and Los Angeles were pushed to add 700 megawatts of solar to the grid.

Status update: A report released earlier this year said the utilities were close to achieving their goals for commercial buildings and existing homes, which also means they’re running out of incentives. Only business programs remain open in SDG&E’s territory.

The Energy Commission reports the new home partnership program had so far brought about 54 megawatts of rooftop solar onto the grid, plus another 62.5 megawatts were scheduled be installed. That means the program’s about a third of the way toward its goal.

Publicly owned utilities had installed about 230 megawatts – also about a third of the state’s goal – per their latest reports to the Energy Commission.

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The goal: Brown really wants California to continue to up its renewable game.

In 2012, he called on the state to install 12,000 megawatts of small-scale renewable projects, including rooftop solar, by 2020 and set a goal of 8,000 megawatts from new large-scale projects by the same year.

Status update: The state Energy Commission is about halfway to this goal. As of early December, the agency said more than 5,200 megawatts from smaller-scale projects were online and that projects expected to produce 1,200 megawatts were in the works.

Large projects, often dubbed utility scale, have actually exceeded Brown’s target. An Energy Commission spokeswoman said the state’s added more than 9,000 megawatts from those big projects.

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The goal: San Diego’s draft Climate Action Plan calls for the city to get 100 percent of its energy from renewables by 2035. Solar power would be a major part of the equation and the draft proposes a handful of new city programs to promote it.

Status update: The first draft of the plan was written while City Councilman Todd Gloria served as interim mayor. Mayor Kevin Faulconer largely embraced it after he took office and he has said he’ll take up the issue again next year.

This is part of our quest on whether solar will pay off for San Diego. Check out our previous post, Required Reading on San Diego’s Solar Surge, here.

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