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California plugs into $3 billion solar plan

The California Public Utilities Commission Thursday approved a $2.9 billion program to make California one of the world’s largest producers of solar power.
HASSETT
California buildings with solar power include Palo Alto Hardware in Palo Alto. Store manager Eric Hassett took in the sun as well in this file photo.Paul Sakuma / AP file
/ Source: Reuters

The California Public Utilities Commission Thursday approved a $2.9 billion program to make California one of the world’s largest producers of solar power.

The “California Solar Initiative,” backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, aims to add 3,000 megawatts of solar energy over 11 years through the installation of 1 million rooftop solar energy systems on homes, businesses, farms, schools and public buildings.

That amount of electricity would be equivalent to about six new power stations.

The measure was approved on a 3-to-1 vote with one commissioner recusing himself because of a conflict of interest.

If the program is fully implemented, California would become the world’s third-largest solar generator behind Japan and Germany. The state currently has about 100 megawatts of solar electricity.

The program will offer rebates for adding solar systems and is expected to give a big boost to manufacturers of solar power generating cells and panels.

The money for the program will come from existing funds already earmarked for solar energy and gas and electric utility rates.

The average residential utility bill would go up by 65 cents a month, according to Environment California, a solar power supporter.

Solar spending could save California utility customers an estimated $9 billion from a reduced need to build new power plants and purchase electricity supplies during high demand days in the summer, according to a CPUC report.

Schwarzenegger pushed a solar energy bill in the state legislature last year, but it stalled amid policy disputes and amendments.

The Republican governor’s energy goals call for making renewable energy like solar and wind power 20 percent of California’s electricity resources by 2017.

Last month, the CPUC approved $300 million in rebates for 2006.

Solar advocates said the program would make solar energy more affordable, create jobs, reduce air pollution and cut emissions of heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming.