California’s solar thermal incentives might live to see another day. The state’s Assembly passed AB 797 by a vote of 48 to 22 yesterday, which will extend consumer incentives for solar thermal technologies that reduce natural gas use in homes and buildings. The bill is part of the state’s ongoing efforts to reduce natural gas use, meet greenhouse gas reduction goals, and support economic development.
“I am pleased the Assembly took the important step of passing this bill and sending it to the Senate,” said Assemblymember 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. A typical residential solar hot water system can help homeowners reduce up to 80 percent of their natural gas use for water heating, and costs around $7,500. Under the program extended by AB 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. 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,” said Kelly Knutsen, Senior Policy Advisor of the California Solar Energy Industries Association, cosponsor of AB 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 AB 797 is critically needed to promote the continued growth of solar heating technologies,” added Michelle Kinman, Clean Energy Advocate with Environment California, the other cosponsor 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.”
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.
— Solar Builder magazine