FOR THE USUAL BAD POLITICAL reasons, the Legislature dropped the ball this year on solar power. Fortunately, other public agencies are doing what they can to make up for the lawmakers' failure.
Senate Bill 1 would have added a couple of necessary spurs to the solar movement by requiring homebuilders to offer solar panels as an option in their new developments and by making it easier for solar home owners to sell their excess power to the local electric utility.
Strange to say, it wasn't pressure from developers that sank the bill. Rather, unions were able to work in requirements on things like union-scale pay for solar installation that made the bill unworkable. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a big supporter of the bill from the start, rightly vowed not to sign it with those provisions. Several key Democrats didn't mind seeing the bill stall because they wanted to avoid giving the governor a popular political win shortly before the November special election.
Happily, the state isn't waiting for the Legislature to get its act together. The California Public Utilities Commission is moving to resurrect a program that, until it ran out of money a few months ago, provided partial rebates to businesses and other institutional users that installed solar panels. The PUC proposes raising $300 million for the rebates through a small fee on utility bills. A similar rebate program for homeowners is expected to run dry in mid-2006; the PUC is looking at extending that program as well.