California solar thermal incentive bill heads to governor’s desk

California assembly

Timed perfectly with Solar Power International, the California Legislature passed AB 797 last week. With the bipartisan vote in the Assembly of 45-19 and the Senate’s bipartisan 30-10 vote last Tuesday, the bill now heads to the Governor for his signature. The bill extends consumer incentives for solar thermal technologies that heat water and air using the sun’s energy, reducing natural gas use in homes and buildings. The bill is part of the state’s ongoing efforts to meet the greenhouse gas reduction goals, improve air quality, and support economic development.

AB 797 would extend the existing California Solar Initiative (CSI)-Thermal program for two years to 2020, seamlessly continuing the natural gas rebate program for homes, businesses and commercial swimming pools, such as at schools and community centers. The bill targets half of the funds for low-income housing and buildings in disadvantaged communities. It also expands eligibility for these rebates to homeowners in the San Joaquin Valley who currently use propane or wood to heat their water.

“The California solar thermal market is growing, especially in the multifamily housing sector – with 32% annual growth between 2015 and 2016 in annual natural gas savings,” said Kelly Knutsen, Senior Policy Advisor of the California Solar Energy Industries Association, a cosponsor of AB 797. “Assemblymember Irwin is a clean energy champion for all Californians, and a strong leader for helping low-income and disadvantaged communities gain access to clean energy technologies to lower their energy bills.”

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“A major challenge to meeting our state’s climate goals – and one that not enough people are talking about – is that we have to heat our homes, businesses and schools without relying on dirty fossil fuels. Solar thermal fits the bill, while reducing our energy bills at the same time,” said Michelle Kinman, Clean Energy Advocate with Environment California, which cosponsored the bill. “We thank Assemblymember Irwin for her leadership and starting this important conversation on low-carbon heat energy.”

Solar thermal projects installed under the CSI-Thermal program reduced natural gas use across the state by over 5.8 million therms each year, equal to the annual amount of natural gas used to heat water for over 32,00 homes. The program has offset over 31,000 metric tons of CO2(eq) annually, comparable to taking over 6,500 cars off the road each year.

 
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