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Solar panel installations in California through the roof in '08

Homeowners and businesses had a record 158 megawatts of photovoltaic panels put on despite the recession.

January 29, 2009|Marla Dickerson

Despite a credit freeze that's stunting renewable-energy projects throughout the country, 2008 was a hot year for solar power in California.

Encouraged by state rebates, Golden State residents and businesses last year installed a record 158 megawatts of photovoltaic panels on their rooftops to turn the sun's rays into electricity, the California Public Utilities Commission said Wednesday. That's more than double the 78 megawatts installed in 2007.

Residential demand appears to be hanging tough in the face of the shaky economy. December saw the largest volume of homeowner rebate requests since the state launched the California Solar Initiative program two years ago.

"I'm encouraged to see that even in these difficult financial times we are breaking solar installation records and spurring private investment in solar projects," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement. Launched in January 2007, the California Solar Initiative is an attempt to push photovoltaics on a mass scale in California to help cut greenhouse gas emissions and shore up the state's energy supply.

Funded by utility ratepayers, the program offers rebates to those who install panels on their homes and businesses. Refunds are typically 20% to 50% of a system's cost.

Solar modules would seem a luxury in the current dismal economy. But experts said new federal tax breaks, on top of already generous state incentives, are encouraging some Californians to take the plunge. As of Jan. 1, homeowners are eligible for tax credits of up to 30% of the entire cost of their projects.

Those benefits had previously been capped at $2,000 per system.

Others have concluded that putting solar panels on their roofs and cutting their power bills is a safer bet than the stock market or real estate.

"Solar customers are finding value in solar at a time when other investments may not be as attractive," said Molly Sterkel, program manager for the California Solar Initiative at the utilities commission, which tracks rooftop solar installations in the territories served by Southern California Edison and the state's other investor-owned utilities.

The figures don't include systems installed in the areas served by the state's municipally owned utilities, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

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marla.dickerson@latimes.com

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