What's at stake for solar in California

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Assembly Bill 32, which is trickling down into a far-reaching set of policies throughout the state, including a carbon cap-and-trade program and the mandatory reporting of greenhouse-gas emissions for major emitters, is scheduled to spark reduction measures starting next year, with mandatory caps beginning in 2012.

So it’s no wonder that a proposition to suspend the law, Proposition 23, proved to be a hot topic at the Solar Power International conference in California this week. Companies such as Sun Run, SunPower and First Solar have been actively campaigning against it. The proposition, which will go to the voters in the November election, would freeze AB 32 until California’s unemployment rate drops to 5.5 percent or less for four consecutive quarters.

According to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state had a 12.4 percent unemployment rate in August. In fact, California has only met the 5.5-percent-for-a-full-year mark three times in the last 35 years. "This law would destroy, not delay, this law and all the economic benefits that would come from it," David Foster, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, said at a "No on Prop 23" press teleconference Thursday.

Proponents of Prop 23 say that it would save more than one million jobs and prevent higher energy taxes, saving households $4,000 per year. Meanwhile, opponents, including solar advocates, say the proposition would end up cutting jobs that green industries would create as a result of AB 32. "Killing California’s global-warming law would kill jobs," Foster said. In this economy, "it’s the worst mistake we could make. America has a jobs crisis today and we need to go forward, not backward."

Several opponents spoke against the proposition at the teleconference, including Solar Energy Industries Association CEO Rhone Resch, who called its defeat "critical". Prop 23 would represent a very significant loss to the industry considering that AB 32 has the potential to result in up to 20 gigawatts of new solar installations by 2015, he added. "The effect would be devastating," Resch said.

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