So far, feed-in tariffs have mostly existed as limited pilot programs in California, but they have been popular elsewhere, such as in Gainesville, Fla. Slots for program participants in Oregon sold out 15 minutes after they were first offered in July.
Such programs are responsible for sparking about 75% of all photovoltaic and 45% of all wind-power projects worldwide, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
"This is big business," said Adam Browning, co-founder of the Vote Solar Initiative advocacy group.
Locally, the Los Angeles Business Council is negotiating with city officials to authorize a program that would require the DWP to buy power from individual producers for 20 years. The program could generate 11,000 clean-tech jobs to meet the demand for rooftop installations, according to the group.
A feed-in tariff program is particularly appealing to residents of Palm Desert. For many homeowners there, the highest expense after the mortgage payment is the power bill, which often hits $1,000 a month.
If homeowners and businesses could easily earn back the cost of solar panels, demand would skyrocket and clean-tech development companies would flock to Palm Desert, said Ferguson, the mayor pro tem.
"Solar isn't a luxury for us — it's a lifeline," he said.