5 Challenges for California Solar

California has led the country in solar policy and solar rooftop installations, but keeping its lead won’t be easy. It will take more public money, for one thing, and that could be a tough pitch to make in light of the state’s big budget shortfall. The president of the California Public Utilities Commission, Michael Peevey, laid out some of the challenges that the state faces this year during a talk at a summit in Silicon Valley Tuesday.

1). RAM in limbo: Deploying the 1 GW Renewable Auction Mechanism (RAM) program, approved by the CPUC last December, has hit a snag as the CPUC deals with critics who filed protests against proposals from the three major utilities on how they would carry out the program. The CPUC issued a suspension order on Monday to half the program’s implementation for up to 150 days.

RAM aims to boost mid-size renewable energy projects by requiring utilities to hold auctions twice a year and offer standardized contracts to buy power from projects that are 20 MW or less. The program is California’s answer to calls by some solar energy advocates for a feed-in tariff policy, in which the government would require utilities to buy renewable electricity and pay government-set prices. Peevey said feed-in tariff’s have one major flaw, which is their dependence on the government to set prices. “RAM provides many of the same benefits of a feed-in tariff, such as standardized contract terms, but it will encourage competition.”

Peevey said the suspension shouldn’t seriously derail the program’s deployment and still believes the first auction will take place this year.

2). WWJD: What will Jerry do?: The state Assembly on Tuesday passed to get 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The state already had the 33 percent goal, created by an executive order from former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the bill will make it tougher to change the mandate. The bill now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. The new governor styled himself as a renewable energy advocate while campaigning last year, though he hasn’t said publicly whether he would sign the bill.

“I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t sign the bill,” Peevey said.

3). CSI running out of money: The program has played a key role in turning the state into the largest solar electricity market in the country. The program, which provides rebates for solar installations or pays for solar energy generated from installations, has been so popular that it may run out of money sooner than expected. The state Legislature will likely consider whether to provide additional funding, Peevey said.

The CPUC launched the 10-year program in 2007 and aimed to add 1,940 MW of solar at homes, businesses, schools and government. By the end of 2010, the state already had reached 42 percent of the goal, .

4). Simplifying CSI process: Peevey said his staff is working on streamlining the CSI application process because installers have been clamoring for ways to reduce the amount of paperwork and wait time to receive the incentives. The current process requires paper filings and applications that need to move through different levels, which are designed to ensure that installers can reserve a spot in the queue to get favorable incentive rates. The rates fall over time when certain installation goals are met, so the reservation system lets you claim the current rate even if you don’t complete the installation until after the rate falls.

One idea is to cut the number of forms installers have to submit as a project moves through the process. They will submit a claim form only when they’ve completed the work. But they also won’t be able to reserve the rates, so they won’t know how much they will get until they get a check, Peevey said. Another idea is to provide that one-application process but offer a reservation system to those who will pay a fee can make sure they get the best rates. The CPUC staff also is looking at allowing electronic signatures on CSI applications, Peevey said…

Source: 5 Challenges for California Solar.