Four years into the highly popular California Solar Initiative (CSI), officials are having a hard time seeing the light at the end of their 10-year tunnel. Adopted in 2006, with a goal of 1,940 MW of installed solar capacity by the end of the year 2016, the state agency in charge is straining to ensure the program’s $2 billion budget will last for the duration.
On July 9, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) took the drastic step of placing a temporary hold on the issuance of incentives for larger projects and government/nonprofit-owned projects. It was greeted with loud protests from school, nonprofit and other public officials overseeing solar installations, the financing for which was predicated on the state’s rebates.
The hold was adopted to give the CPUC time to solicit and consider comments on proposals to modify the incentives. In its ruling, the CPUC expressed concern that under the current guidelines, the program’s budget could be depleted well before its goals are achieved. The hold was expected to last until September. However, on July 29, the CPUC lifted the hold and ordered the program administrator to resume issuing incentives.
Meanwhile, the CPUC is still considering proposals for a modification to avoid running out of funds. These include lowering the discount rate for projects over 30 kilowatts and for government and nonprofit applicants and redirecting $20 million away from the program’s administrative costs to make more funds available for actual incentives to applicants.
According to the CPUC, if adopted, the proposals would still give government and nonprofit projects a higher incentive than commercial projects. Instead of a 115 percent higher incentive, they would receive an incentive that was only 58 percent higher.
The CPUC reports that the CSI is already 42 percent of the way to meeting its goals. It received a record of nearly 300 megawatts of new CSI project applications since January 2010, more than any other six-month period since the start of the program.