The Sun’s Rising Power in California

California is quickly developing substantial solar generating capacity.  Increasing energy prices, federal economic stimulus funding and concerns over security from reliance on foreign energy sources and to protect natural resources are driving investment in renewable energy.  Here, we are building capacity for both distributed and centralized solar power generation.  Homes and businesses are installing roof-top solar arrays and large scale central generating stations are under development.  Some of these projects are described here.

Distributed Solar in the Neighborhood

Distributed solar generation systems are being installed throughout the state, in large part due to a legislative program that is now five years old, but also due to continuing public and political support.  Senate Bill 1 of 2006 (“SB 1”)[1] expanded on several distributed solar generation programs, including the Governor’s “Million Solar Roofs Initiative”, the PUC’s California Solar Initiative Program, the Energy Commission’s New Solar Homes Partnership, and utility incentive programs.[2] Governor Brown, in his inaugural address, reiterated his campaign pledge to develop 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2020.[3]

SB 1 allocated up to $3.3 billion by 2017 to install solar energy systems capable of generating a total of 3,000 megawatts.  These systems are almost, if not entirely, photovoltaic (PV).  The bill was intended to foster a self-sufficient industry that would make solar energy systems a viable mainstream option for homes and commercial buildings.  Under the law, beginning January 1, 2011, production home sellers must offer the option of a solar energy system to all buyers of new homes on land meeting certain criteria.  Alternatively, developers or sellers of production homes may forgo offering the solar option by installing a single solar energy system, meeting minimum generating capacity, on other projects.[4]

SB 1, other state programs and federal stimulus funding are working together as intended.  For example, Burbank now has 93 solar energy systems, compared to 36 in July of last year, and 22 are in development.  Nearly all of these were funded with public utility grants, which in turn were funded by a State Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, itself funded by federal stimulus money.[5]

Solar Power Plants

In addition to distributed solar power systems on homes and businesses, solar power plants are being developed across the state.  California’s electric utility companies are required to use renewable energy to produce 20 percent of their power by 2010 and 33 percent by 2020.  A main source of renewable power will be solar energy.  California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires electric corporations to increase procurement from eligible renewable energy resources by at least 1% of their retail sales annually, until they reach 20% by 2010.[6]

Some of the plants being developed to meet these goals will use large PV systems, similar to the smaller distributed systems.  Since the beginning of 2010 through January 2011, the PUC has approved or approval is pending for at least 25 contracts for utilities to provide power from solar PV facilities.[7]

Others plants will concentrate the sun’s energy to generate heat to run steam turbines, like more traditional power plants.  Many large solar energy projects are being proposed in California’s deserts on private, state, and federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land.  BLM has received right-of-way requests encompassing more than 300,000 acres for the development of approximately 34 large solar thermal power plants.  The Energy Commission, which licenses thermal power plants capable of generating more than 50 MW, approved nine solar thermal power plant licenses in 2010.[8]


California is again leading the nation.  The state, through deliberate policy choices by elected leaders and confirmed by a majority vote by the people, is developing significant renewable generation capacity.  It is also developing significant technological and intellectual capacity in renewable power, creating sustainable industries along the way.  With each new day, we’re realizing more of what the sun has to offer.

About the Author

Pippin C. Brehler is a Senior Staff Counsel with the Office of the Chief Counsel of the California Energy Commission.  He is lead counsel for the Commission’s building standards programs.  Pippin previously counseled public and private clients on various aspects of land use, environmental, eminent domain and real estate law.  He obtained his Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan Law School in 2003.  He can be reached at (916) 654-5056 or .

The content of this article and views expressed herein are those of the authors and not necessarily the Energy Commission.  This material does not constitute legal advice or exhaustive study; applicability to any particular circumstance requires fact specific analysis.

[1] Stats. 2006, ch. 132.

[2] See, e.g., Pub. Utilities Code, § 387.5 [local publicly owned electric utilities that sell electricity at retail must adopt, implement, and finance solar initiative programs].

[3] The Solar Home and Business Journal, In California and Arizona, Governors Emphasize Renewable Energy Goals, Jan. 3, 2011, available at: .

[4] Public Resources Code § 25405.5.

[5] Gretchen Meier, The Burbank Leader, Jan. 1, 2011, available at:,0,6224612.story .

[6] Senate Bill 1078, Stats. 2002, ch. 516, and Senate Bill 107, Stats. 2006, ch. 464.

[7] See Status of Renewable Portfolio Standards Projects, at .

[8] See California Energy Commission, Large Solar Energy Projects, available at: .

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