Thursday, August 12, 2004

Legislature pushes incentives to spur solar homes

A sweeping proposal to run half of new California homes on solar energy by 2020 gained momentum Tuesday, with the initiative by the state Environmental Protection Agency added to a bill that already has cleared one chamber of the Legislature.

The proposal would far exceed incentives and requirements in other states, putting California on a par with solar programs by world leaders like Japan and Germany. It comes three years after the state's debilitating energy crisis, which helped Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger unseat recalled Gov. Gray Davis last fall.

Sen. Kevin Murray, a Democrat from Culver City, said he will alter his bill to include key parts of the EPA proposal without waiting for Schwarzenegger to decide if he will support it.

Schwarzenegger was generally supportive of the plan during an informal conversation last week, Murray said. "Whether he puts his full muscle behind it or gets behind it I think remains to be seen over the next few days."

Schwarzenegger, in a speech Monday at the Border Governors' Conference in New Mexico, called for border states to cooperate on an energy conservation campaign and expanding the production of solar and wind-generated electricity.

State EPA officials last week outlined the "Million Solar Homes Initiative" to fulfill a Schwarzenegger campaign pledge.

That would include spending $100 million annually for 10 years for incentives to add solar power to new and existing homes, and backing the incentives with a requirement that builders include solar on 5 percent of new homes by 2010 and half by 2020. The $100 million would come from a new monthly utility bill surcharge of about 25-30 cents per household, which the EPA estimates would be more than offset by letting homeowners sell their excess electricity back to utilities.


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