Bill to Boost Rooftop Solar Thermal Passes Committee

Bill to Reduce Natural Gas Use Through Solar Energy Advances in California Legislature with Aliso Canyon Leak as Backdrop

SACRAMENTO — Today the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee passed AB 2460 (Irwin) by a vote of 10-3. The bill would expand consumer incentives for rooftop solar thermal technologies that can reduce natural gas demand within a building by up to 80%.  The bill is part of a response to the leak at Aliso Canyon and efforts to reduce California’s natural gas use statewide, meet greenhouse gas reduction goals, and improve reliability. 

"I am pleased the committee took the important step of moving this bill forward," said Assembly member Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks), author of the bill. "Using California's abundant sunshine to do something as simple as heating water is sensible for our state and a key way to diversify our energy resources, protect public health, and clean up our air."  

The bill extends consumer rebates for solar heating technologies that directly reduce natural gas usage in buildings. The largest markets for solar thermal technologies, such as solar water heaters, are commercial swimming pools, such as at schools, and multi-family housing buildings. Under the program extended by AB 2460, consumers would get an upfront rebate as well as be eligible for the 30% federal tax credit. A typical residential solar hot water system costs around $6,000 before rebates.

The bill was advanced as part of a response to the leak at Aliso Canyon and the general realization that California is heavily dependent on a narrow supply of natural gas. Efforts to reduce demand, especially in summer months, are an important part of the state’s efforts to maintain energy reliability and protect consumers. Consider these facts:

  • Approximately 50% of the demand for Aliso Canyon is used in buildings, energy that solar heating technologies can provide with no pollution or safety threats.
  • If a solar water heating project were installed on just 7% of the multi-family buildings in the Los Angeles area, it would offset the annual natural gas demand for all buildings served by withdrawals from Aliso Canyon.
  • California homes and businesses use 2.5 billion therms of natural gas annually to heat water, which is equal to the total storage capacity of natural gas in the state, including Aliso Canyon.
  • If the authorized funding level within AB 2460 were approved, the expected savings from the program would annually offset as much natural gas use as the amount leaked from Aliso Canyon.

The bill reported out of the Assembly Committee today would extend California Solar Initiative (CSI) Thermal program funding for ten years through 2027, providing certainty to the growing solar water heating market. The bill would also target significant resources for solar thermal on low-income housing and buildings in disadvantaged communities.  Demand for solar water heating in low-income multifamily housing buildings is high, accounting for nearly half of the applications in 2015. AB 2460 would also ensure that the maximum rebate cap works for industrial customers, enabling solar thermal systems for the largest users of natural gas.    

“To meet our statewide climate change goals and address the challenges posed by Aliso Canyon, we need consistent consumer access to the sun,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association, sponsor of the bill. “We thank Assembly member Irwin for her leadership on this important issue.”