Bill to Extend Solar Thermal Program Signed by Governor Brown

Law Will Incentivize Solar Energy to Reduce Natural Gas Use

SACRAMENTO—Governor Brown signed AB 797 (Irwin) into law yesterday afternoon. The bill previously passed the Assembly by a bipartisan vote of 45-19 and the Senate with a bipartisan 30-10 vote. The bill extends consumer incentives for solar thermal technologies that heat water and air using the sun's energy, reducing natural gas use in homes and buildings. The bill is part of the state's ongoing efforts to meet the greenhouse gas reduction goals, improve air quality, and support economic development.

"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 good-paying jobs," said Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks), author of the bill. "I am pleased Governor Brown signed into law the extension of this important program."

AB 797 extends the existing California Solar Initiative (CSI)-Thermal program for two years to 2020, seamlessly continuing the natural gas rebate program for homes, businesses and commercial swimming pools, such as at schools and community centers. The bill targets half of the funds for low-income housing and buildings in disadvantaged communities. It also expands eligibility for these rebates to homeowners in the San Joaquin Valley who currently use propane or wood to heat their water.

"The California solar thermal market is growing, especially in the multifamily housing sector - with 32% annual growth between 2015 and 2016 in annual natural gas savings," said Kelly Knutsen, Senior Policy Advisor of the California Solar Energy Industries Association, a cosponsor of AB 797. "Governor Brown has been a long-time champion of clean energy and solar thermal technologies, and we applaud both Governor Brown and Assemblymember Irwin for their leadership in building California's clean energy economy."

"A major challenge to meeting our state's climate goals - and one that not enough people are talking about - is that we have to heat our homes, businesses and schools without relying on dirty fossil fuels. Solar thermal fits the bill, while reducing our energy bills at the same time," said Michelle Kinman, Clean Energy Advocate with Environment California, which cosponsored the bill. "We thank Governor Brown and Assemblymember Irwin for their leadership on encouraging low-carbon heat energy for cleaner air for all Californians."

To date, solar thermal projects installed under the CSI-Thermal program reduced natural gas use across the state by over 6 million therms each year, equal to the annual amount of natural gas used to heat water for nearly 34,000 homes. The program has offset over 32,000 metric tons of CO2(eq) annually, comparable to taking 6,900 cars off the road each year.

The new law states that the California Public Utilities Commission "shall implement program changes in phases, if necessary, to enable seamless continuation of the availability of rebates, and the administration and promotion of the program, as of January 1, 2018."

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