Opportunities for California residences to invest in solar energy is greater than ever before but we must keep pushing.

California, the eighth largest economy in the world, and a energy trendsetter for most of the globe, especially in renewable energy development. California is blessed with renewable resources like vast areas open to solar installations, wind and geothermal energy. Sacramento state leaders, like Governor Schwarzenegger, have responded to the call creating numerous solar installation rebates and incentives which many Californian’s have taken advantage of.

The California Energy Commission is pursuing ambitious goals, policies, and programs on climate change to do our share to reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Californians have embarked on an ambitious “Million Solar Roof” initiative intended to capture California’s renowned solar energy. The program will create 3,000 megawatts of installed solar photovoltaic capacity by 2018.

However, the constrained availablity of credit has put a decline on demand and it is up to all of us to keep pushing back against those who would like to keep California on dirty fossel fuel. Industry leaders forecast dramatic growth in the California solar market with extension of credit. Another reason to vote NO on Prop 23 which is on the ballot this fall.

Californians need greater access to solar markets. Paul Fong, Special to the Mercury News In 2006, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared California’s need for a million solar roofs. To help achieve this lofty goal, California leadership provides solar incentives to offset the cost of installing solar systems on rooftops. California ratepayers provide the funding source for these incentives through a solar surcharge found on their monthly energy bill. I believe that all ratepayers who already pay a monthly solar surcharge, not just those who can put solar on their roof, should have the opportunity to go solar.

AB 1947 opens solar up to a whole new market it allows Publicly Owned Utilities, known as POUs, to “lease” solar power produced on solar farms to individual ratepayers who would otherwise not be able to install solar on their roofs.

This bill is based on Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s successful SolarShares pilot program, which gives SMUD customers who are unable to install solar on their rooftop to nonetheless access solar power for a monthly fee. Without flexibility in the California Solar Incentive Program, a significant demographic will continue to be excluded from “going solar.”

The reality is that the vast majority of Californians cannot go solar. There are a multitude of reasons including shaded roof space, multifamily dwellings, or high upfront costs. Lack of incentive is also to blame. Ratepayers in SMUD and other POU-operated territories often find themselves without an economic incentive to invest in roof top solar, as low energy rates in POU territory increase the amount of time it takes for their investment to pay off. AB 1947 helps break down the barriers set by the current California Solar Initiative Program and provides incentive to opt-into the program.

Not only does AB 1947 help provide equity to a demographic that hitherto has had little or no access to solar, but it will open new demand for green jobs in California. With California’s staggering unemployment rate, we can’t afford to turn our backs on the burgeoning green industry.

A couple of years ago, two community college researchers conducted a survey of solar companies in California. The survey showed that an estimated 16,500 to 17,500 people across the state and 6,900 to 8,000 people in the Bay Area were employed by solar companies in 2008. In addition, California’s attraction to solar power has created thousands of solar installation and engineering jobs in the state and will probably add thousands more many of those new jobs will be in the Bay Area.

Salaries for solar installation, design and engineering are substantial and enough to support a family. For example, entry-level solar installers make a median salary of $31,200 per year, and more experienced colleagues earn $60,000. Experienced solar designers and engineers earn a median salary of $83,000.

AB 1947 will result in more distributed solar power, new green solar installation and engineering jobs and more equitable participation in the California Solar Initiative program. Green jobs will help us fix this broken economy and keep California on tract for a bright future.