California Assembly Passes Bill To Extend Solar Thermal Incentives

By Joseph Bebon, Solar Industry Magazine

By a vote of 48 to 22, the California State Assembly has passed A.B.797, a bill that would extend consumer incentives for solar thermal technologies. According to the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA), the bill is part of the state’s ongoing efforts to reduce natural gas use, meet greenhouse-gas reduction goals and support economic development. It now goes to the state Senate for consideration.

“I am pleased the Assembly took the important step of passing this bill and sending it to the Senate,” says Assembly Member Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, author of the bill. “Using California’s warm sunshine to do something as simple as heating water is sensible for our state and a key way to protect public health, clean up our air, and support local jobs.”

The largest markets for solar thermal technologies, such as solar water heaters, are multi-family housing buildings and commercial swimming pools, such as at schools and community centers. According to CALSEIA, a typical residential solar hot water system can help homeowners reduce up to 80% of their natural gas use for water heating, and costs around $7,500. Under the program extended by A.B.797, consumers would receive a rebate that can be coupled with the 30% federal tax credit to reduce the overall cost of the system.

The bill reported out of the Assembly would extend the existing California Solar Initiative (CSI)-Thermal program for two years to 2020, continuing the program seamlessly. CALSEIA says the California solar thermal market is growing, especially in the multifamily housing sector – with 32% annual growth between 2015 and 2016 in natural gas savings. The bill would also target significant resources for solar thermal on low-income housing and buildings in disadvantaged communities.

“To meet our statewide climate change goals, especially on the heating side of the equation, we need consistent programs that increase access to the sun for California homes and businesses,” comments Kelly Knutsen, senior policy advisor of CALSEIA, co-sponsor of A.B.797. “We thank Assembly member Irwin for her strong leadership on this important issue.”

“There’s no better way to heat our water than by the sun, and A.B.797 is critically needed to promote the continued growth of solar heating technologies,” adds Michelle Kinman, clean energy advocate with Environment California, the other co-sponsor of the bill. “The CSI-Thermal program is an essential part of how we can meet the challenges of our heavy natural gas use and, at the same time, further the state’s greenhouse-gas emission reduction goals.”

According to CALSEIA, solar thermal projects installed under the CSI-Thermal program reduced natural gas use across the state by over 5.6 million therms each year, equal to the annual amount of natural gas used to heat water for roughly 31,500 homes. The program has offset over 30,000 metric tons of CO2(eq) annually, comparable to taking over 6,400 cars off the road each year, the group adds.