Fresno & California Solar Permits Up Up Up

Fresno California News – Solar permits in the central valley are way up. It encouraging to see residential homeowners embracing the need to change our lifestyle here in California. (and across the USA) California communities are hip to saving money and have the most to loose with climate change. Lower electricity bills and greater environmental friendliness are significant reasons to go solar in California. Apparently more many people agree. Read More.

By John Lindt
Sierra2theSea Sunpluggers News Service

Homeowners in the heartland of California have joined with the rest of the state in embracing photovoltaic solar power for their homes. Whether they believe in global warming or not, many of them like the idea of watching their utility meters running backward.

Despite the recession and a huge drop in construction activity, the number of solar panel permits for homes in California’s Central Valley has shot up significantly. Despite a recession and a huge drop in construction activity across the board, the number of solar panel permits for homes in a four-county area in the Central Valley more than doubled during the first half of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009.

Through the California Solar Initiative, which began in January 2007, residential, commercial and other electricity users in the state’s three big utility service areas have installed or are planning to install a total of more than 700 megawatts of power capacity – about the size of a small nuclear power plant.

With the help of rebates and through third-party ownership programs, solar owners have the benefit that little or no up-front capital may be needed to install the PV units, says a consultant report issued last month for the California Public Utilities Commission, which sponsors the solar program. The initiative has a budget of $2,167 million over 10 years and the goal is to reach 1,940 megawatts of installed solar capacity by 2016, consisting of 1,750 mw from the general market program and 190 mw from two low-income residential programs.

CSI projects generated over 390,000 megawatt-hours of electricity during 2009, over three times the amount generated in 2008. That energy was enough to meet the electricity requirements of approximately 66,000 homes for a year.

In 2009 the California Solar Initiative program was involved in the installation of 13,100 PV systems, accounting for a rebated capacity of 146.7 megawatts. This represented a 55 percent year-over-year growth rate of installed systems. The systems installed in 2009 represented 52.4 percent of the total number of systems and 51.6 percent of the total capacity for the CSI program over its three-year lifetime, says the report.

If 2009 was good, the pace has picked up in 2010. The Central Valley counties of Tulare, Fresno, Kern and Kings saw the installation of nearly 700 residential solar units through mid-July 2010 compared to the same months the year before, according to permit figures provided by the company Construction Monitor.

This construction activity is welcome at the same time that construction of new homes and most other residential construction categories are way down.

The Central Valley, one of the world’s most productive farming areas, includes the counties of Tulare, Fresno, Kern and Kings. Above, the Kings County library branch in Kettleman City.

A case in point is in Kern County, where this time of year ought to be big for swimming pool construction, but has not been. Kern swimming pool products permits number just 128 so far this year, compared to 202 pool permits issued during the same six months of 2009.

It appears that homeowners are beating the heat inside their new solar-cooled homes rather than in a new pool. During this same period, permits for home solar systems in Kern County more than doubled, from 145 during the first six months of 2009 to 301 during the same months this year.

Solar energy planners looking to quickly add more renewable energy to the power grid like residential solar because it generates energy right where it is needed without having to build expensive new power lines. Another benefit is that solar works well just when it’s the hottest – when the state’s power supply is tested by soaring demand.

Clouding the future for some homeowners, however, is that federal regulators have at least temporarily blocked a financing program for home energy-efficiency remodels across the USA, including the installation of solar panels.

Now state Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. has sued the government agencies involved to allow the so-called Property Assessed Clean Energy programs, or PACE, to continue. These programs allow residential homeowners to use bond-backed property tax assessments to install solar panels, add insulation or make other energy-related improvements. The money is paid back over periods as long as 20 years through special tax assessments. With some programs, a lien on the property takes precedence over an existing mortgage if there is a foreclosure.

On July 6, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said that solar PACE loans presented “unusual and difficult risk management challenges” for lenders after the mortgage finance enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pulled support for the program in May.

Solar PACE programs are in the works or in place in Fresno, Kern and San Luis Obispo counties. Almost half the counties in California have developed Solar PACE financing programs or plan to start one. Mr. Brown said the mortgage giants’ actions have stopped many of these programs dead in their tracks, destroying job creation, stifling energy independence and hampering California’s economic recovery.

Clean-energy companies have had to lay off workers, and California risks losing more than $100 million in federal stimulus money, the attorney general said.

“Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac received enormous federal bailouts,” Mr. Brown said, “but now they’re throwing up impermeable barriers to bank lending that creates jobs, stimulates the economy and boosts clean energy.”

He has appealed to President Obama to help save the program.