By Miriam Raftery
December 7, 2008 (San Diego) — A unanimous vote by the San Diego Board of Supervisors in November requires the County's Chief Administrative Officer to provide county-sponsored legislation making it easier for residential power customers the ability to sell surplus solar energy back to utility companies.
Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who represents East County, introduced the resolution to enable San Diego County residents to take advantage of the California Solar Initiative passed by the state legislature. The program, implemented last year, provides $3.3 billion to subsidize installations of photovoltaic systems.
"The individual who has generated the energy gets nothing for it," said Jacob. "The need for action was brought to my attention by these very customers." Allowing customers to profit by selling back surplus power generated will provided another incentive for clean and renewable energy, she added.
Currently, state law prohibits homeowners from selling surplus power back to utility companies. A bill that would have allowed "net meter" utility customers to sell surplus power failed passage earlier this year in Sacramento; however a similar bill is expected to be introduced when the Legislature reconvenes in January. Utility companies are already required by state mandate to produce at least 20% of power from renewable sources by 2010.
"The state can and should, I believe, allow SDG&E to allow the residential solar towards its mandate," Jacob said adding that she believes our county can meet its energy needs through clean sources, according to a December 4 article in The Alpine Sun. SDG&E has registered support of legislation allowing residential customers to sell surplus power to utilities at a fair rate.
Ken Sobel, president of United Sustainable Energy, told East County Magazine that Jacob's proposal represents one of two key components needed for growth of renewable energy to reduce demand for foreign oil (a national security concern), control our energy costs, reduce greenhouse gases, mitigate climate change and spur economy growth through "green technology, which produces nearly five times the number of jobs as the production of carbon-based fuels."
Sobel observed, "Dianne's proposal is generally referred to as a `feed-in tariff.It is the model that Germany used to become substantially energy independent in only a decade. However, there are other major components. The Berkeley Plan (which may become Chula Vista's and possibly the City of San Diego's) allows homeowners to buy solar PV (photovoltaic) systems with loans secured by real estate taxes."
He added a cautionary note reflecting today's tough economic climate. "All of the foregoing will be ineffective, however, without easy credit." Local bonds to guarantee low interest loans and extensive marketing would help such plans succeed, Sobel concluded, adding, "But we are on the right track."