Proposed amendments to California’s net metering rules and legislation to encourage the installation of solar power in buildings historically excluded have been passed in the state’s Senate and are now before the Assembly for consideration.

Under the existing law net metering customers may sell the power generated by their systems to the grid to offset the cost of their electricity bill, but they do not have to be reimbursed if their systems produce more energy than they consume. Senate Bill 7 seeks to change this with the introduction of a roll over of unused energy credits for a period of up to two years.

A separate bill, SB 542, seeks to encourage solar power installations and energy efficiency in apartment blocks, commercial buildings, and manufactured homes, from which solar power opportunities have historically been excluded. Under the Bill the PUC will be required to develop and implement a strategy for such installations, and in the case of manufactured homes the PUC will be required to inform installers about permitting processes.

Both bills were promoted by Senator Pat Wiggins (D – Santa Rosa), who likened the net metering rules to having frequent flyer miles that one can never cash out or use. “And it sends the wrong message to consumers about the importance of energy conservation,” she said.

Commenting on the expansion of solar generation to rental homes, Wiggins said that with renters making up about 43 percent of California households, the current incentives for energy efficiency and solar power aren’t cost effective for either the tenant, or the landlord, in many instances. These issues and barriers will be addressed under the bill.

The two bills are aimed at increasing residential and commercial solar power generation in the state. Under the California Solar Initiative, 3,000 MW of new, solar-produced electricity must be installed on the customer side of the meter by 2016.

California and West Coast most solar integrated

The Solar Electric Power Association’s (SEPA) recently released second annual ranking on utility solar integration for 2008 highlighted California as the leading state, and the West Coast as the leading region, for solar integration in the U.S., both for installations during the year and cumulatively.

During 2008 the three California IOUs topped the rankings, with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) installing 74.9 MW, Southern California Edison (SCE) 30.4 MW and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) 15.3 MW. However in terms of watts per customer the leader in 2008 was San Francisco PUC installing 2,696.3 W/c, followed by Kauai Island Utility Coop with 47.1 W/c and Palo Alto Utilities with 44.4 W/c.

Cumulatively SCE tops the rankings with 441.4 MW, followed by PG&E (229.5 MW), NV Energy (77.9 MW), SDG&E (49.3 MW), and Public Service Co. of Colorado – Xcel Energy (28.5 MW). Others in the top 10 list include LA Department of Water & Power (13.6 MW), Arizona Public Service Co. (10.6 MW), and Sacramento Municipal Utility District (10.2 MW).

In terms of cumulative watts per customer all the top 10 positions are held by West Coast utilities. These are San Francisco PUC (4,739.3 W/c), Port of Oakland (3,414.7 W/c), SCE (91.7 W/c), Kauai Island Utility Coop (70.6 W/c), Palo Alto Utilities (70.4 W/c), NV Energy (68.6 W/c), PG&E (44.3 W/c), Maui Electric Co. (43.8 W/c), Hawaii Electric Light Co. (41.0 W/c), and SDG&E (36.3 W/c).