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New laws OK rebates, energy projects

Gov. Jerry Brown continued his drive for green energy and jobs with the signing of three new laws that will provide ongoing rebates and streamlined permitting for renewable energy projects.

One of the bills, Assembly Bill 1150 from Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez, D-Coachella, will provide $83 million a year, collected from fees on ratepayers’ bills, for a state program that provides rebates for commercial-scale wind and fuel cell projects.

The funding comes from distribution fees on ratepayers’ bills, according to officials at the California Public Utilities Commission.

The other laws signed by the governor during a ceremony near Fresno were:

Senate Bill 585, authored by Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, adds another $200 million in funding for the California Solar Initiative, specifically for rebates for nonresidential projects.

Senate Bill 16, authored by state Sen. Mike Rubio, D-Bakersfield, requires set time frames for environmental permitting for renewable energy projects.

Pérez, who attended the signing Thursday, framed his bill as helping California meet its goal of producing 33 percent of its power from renewables by 2020 while also helping the economy.

It will “encourage job creation up and down the supply chain, ranging from engineering and manufacturing to the field service, construction, and equipment supply fields,” he said.

Mike Upp, vice president of sales for ClearEdge Power, a fuel cell company with an office in Palm Desert, said the new law is critical for his business.

The rebate program, called the Self-Generation Incentive Program, has provided rebates of up to $12,500 for his customers in the Coachella Valley.

The company produces a 5-kilowatt natural gas fuel cell designed for large homes, about 5,000 square feet and up, and small commercial use.

The valley, with its upscale residential communities and high electric bills, was specifically chosen as one of its first markets.

With the company’s fuel cells retailing at about $56,000, the self-generation rebates were a boost for sales, Upp said.

But in January, the PUC had to put the program on hold because incoming applications had exceeded the available rebate funds.

The loss of the rebate program “put a lot of people in a state of indecision and limbo,” he said.

“It affected everyone in fuel cells and distributed wind.”

Pérez’s bill will provide a stable funding stream for the program for next three years, and the PUC also has passed new regulations for the program to trim rebate amounts.

Previously, rebates ran from $1.50 to $4.50 a watt. Rates are now 50 cents to $2.25 a watt.