Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Seeing the light

Special interests shouldn't be allowed to eclipse legislation making solar water heaters a better deal.

June 15, 2007

IF THERE'S ONE natural resource that California has in abundance, it's sunshine. Yet it's astonishing how few residents take advantage of this free, nonpolluting energy source. Last year, only 1,000 solar water heaters were installed in the entire state. A sensible Assembly bill could make solar power more attractive while discouraging consumption of carbon-emitting natural gas, but it first has to get through the state Senate.

AB 1470, from Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), is a companion to a similar bill that was approved last year after being heavily touted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. That one, SB 1, imposed a surcharge on electric bills to subsidize the installation on homes and businesses of solar panels that generate electricity. This one would create a surcharge on gas bills to subsidize solar water-heating systems.

The cost to power consumers is very small; AB 1470 would add only about 13 cents a month to gas bills, according to the California Public Utilities Commission. But the benefits are potentially great. Solar water-heating systems reduce the need for natural gas by up to 75% per building, and that doesn't just benefit the owner of the solar water heater. The lowered demand for natural gas would produce lower gas prices even for those who don't go solar, while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Solar water heaters cost between $4,000 and $6,000 for a residential system. That price could be cut in half using an existing federal tax credit combined with the state subsidy created by Huffman's bill, which would generate $250 million over 10 years. At the lower price, consumers could recoup their costs via lower gas bills within a decade. And once the technology becomes more common, its price will drop, eventually rendering the subsidy unnecessary.

Gas companies, including Southern California Gas Co. parent Sempra Energy, are heavily opposed to AB 1470, as is the California Chamber of Commerce. The utilities claim to be worried about the effect on gas consumers, but their real concern is pretty transparent. They stand to lose money if their customers start taking advantage of free solar energy rather than buying their natural gas.

The bill was approved last week in the Assembly but is expected to face a tougher fight in the state Senate. A bright solar initiative like this one must not be derailed by the narrow interests of a few gas giants.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|