A new bill passed resoundingly by the California legislature last week will allow more utility customers to sell excess solar electricity back to their power provider. Current law limits the amount of energy utilities can purchase from customers to 2.5 percent. The new bill, which Governor Schwarzenegger reportedly plans to sign, will double that amount to 5 percent.

Supporters of the measure say that it will increase the use of solar technology and help offset high electricity costs. Clean energy advocate Bernadette Del Chiaro of Environment California lauds the measure: “It makes solar power affordable for people,” she said. “You couldn’t do that if you lost all that electricity.” The worry that inspired this Assembly bill was that the current 2.5 percent cap would lock out new solar users, thus discouraging solar power in California.

Opponents’ primary complaint about the bill is that it does not allow the solar energy purchased from customers by the utility to count toward state renewable energy mandates unless the utility pays that customer a surcharge. Subsequently, the detractors claim, the rest of the utility’s customers will have to pay higher rates to cover the added costs. “These customers should be allowed to make solar work, but we’re not out to make them rich,” said Matthew Freedman, an attorney with The Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group based in San Francisco.

California’s mandates dictate that 33 percent of the state’s energy must come from renewable sources by 2030.

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