It took two years for the California legislature to agree on a final version of the Million Solar Roofs Plan, SB 1, but it was finally passed and signed into law by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the end of August. According to Schwarzenegger, the plan, which will lead to one million solar roofs in California by 2018, will provide 3,000MW of additional clean energy and reduce the output of greenhouse gases by 3 million tons, which he says is “like taking one million cars off the road.”
However, much of the controversy that held this bill up in the legislature for the past two years was centered around a licensing dispute that was not resolved within the recently signed law. Under existing laws, contractors holding either a C-10 (electrical) or C-46 (solar) license in California can install any photovoltaic (PV) system without limitations. However, some interests want any new solar panels that are paid for with the help of a subsidy from utility ratepayers to be installed by C-10 licensed electricians rather than by C-46 licensed solar installers.
“This would be basically taking the people that have been doing solar for the last 30 years in California and telling them they can no longer do their business anymore,” says Les Nelson, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association, Rio Vista, Calif.
But those who are in favor of only C-10 licensed contractors installing these systems often cite concern about the safety of non-electricians hooking panels up to the electrical grid — something that was not as common in the state before rebate programs passed in the late '90s.
On the flip side, Nelson says that C-10 contractors had no experience with solar electricity before these rebate programs lured more of them into the industry as of late. Even so, he says, “The solar community has no issue with the electrical community becoming involved with PV. Some in the electrical community have an issue with them not being the only ones that can do PV.”
With neither side willing to budge on this issue in the California legislature, the latest version of the bill was pushed through by deferring the decision of who can and can't install these solar panels to the Contractors State License Board.
The bill states, “This bill would require the board to review and, if needed, revise its licensing classifications and examinations to ensure that contractors authorized to perform work on solar energy systems, as specified, have the requisite qualifications to perform the work.”
No timeline was placed on when the board should review these licensing classifications. Nelson hopes it's later rather than sooner. “The license board already made this determination at least once before, and the legislation is now asking them to make it yet another time,” he says.
In the meantime, both C-10 and C-46 contractors will be allowed to participate in the additional work created by this new law.