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California Nearing Rooftop Solar Goal

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Community solar in Palo Alto | Photo: Bsterling/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The agency that oversees California utilities reported Wednesday that its program to promote rooftop solar power generation in the state has reached two thirds of its target. According to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), its California Solar Initiative (CSI) is well on the way to meeting its goal of installing 1,940 megawatts of solar capacity by the end of 2016.

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The CPUC released its annual report on the CSI on Wednesday. According to that report, the program has backed the installation of rooftop solar at at 167,878 "customer sites" -- rooftops, parking structures and other locations. CPUC estimates that those installations add up to 1,629 megawatts of power generating capacity.

In 2012 alone, a record 391 megawatts of rooftop solar capacity was installed with help from the CSI. What's more, enough CSI-backed projects are pending to make up another 19 percent of the program's goal.

All of the projects included are under one megawatt in capacity, and 94 percent of the rooftop generating capacity is enrolled in utility net-metering programs. That means these figures don't include utility-scale solar projects that sell power directly to the grid, and it also means that the solar power capacity is above and beyond what utilities are obligated to buy under the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard law.

The CSI, the largest rooftop solar program in the U.S., began in January 2007 as part of the state's overall initiative to build three gigawatts of solar power generatiing capacity in California.

The CSI program covers installations on both residential and commercial properties. According to the report, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDGE) are leading their competitor Southern California Edison (SCE) in installing residential solar projects. SCE has installed only 62 percent of its goal under the program, according to CPUC, while PG&E and SDGE have met or exceeded their goals. PG&E leads the pack in commercial installations, which tend to be significantly larger, wiith 70 percent of its goal met.

Overall, the CPUC says the CSI is a success story even as it runs low on funding. The intent of the program was to bring material and labor costs for solar down by paying for a whole lot of PV panels between 2007 and 2016, and those prices have certainly dropped -- though it's fair to say China's subsidiizing of its PV factories has much more to do with the price drop. As CSI winds down, that price drop will likely pick up the slack: it's getting to be about as expensive in the long run to install solar as it is to face 20 years of electric bills.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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