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Committee rejects Schwarzenegger solar plan, advances alternative
Associated Press

SACRAMENTO - An Assembly committee on Thursday rejected Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to encourage 1 million solar-powered homes over the next 13 years, instead advancing a less ambitious alternative the administration suggested it would veto.

The Senate, meanwhile, approved an energy deregulation measure that Schwarzenegger also has threatened to veto because it doesn't allow utility customers to shop around for cheaper power.

Lawmakers offered hope there could be a compromise on the solar homes proposal before the Legislature's planned adjournment Friday. But they also said the idea is so far-reaching the debate may best be postponed until next year.

They rejected Schwarzenegger's proposal in part because it allows for an electricity rate increase, but would let solar-powered homes sell their extra electricity back to utilities for what the administration contends would be a net savings.

The program won't work without that trade-off, said Joe Desmond, Schwarzenegger's deputy secretary for energy.

Schwarzenegger is disappointed lawmakers rejected a bill that would have been "an important first step" toward 1 million solar homes, said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Ashley Snee, blaming unions and utilities for killing the bill.

The Utilities and Commerce Committee, on a 7-4 vote, sent the full Assembly a substitute measure that uses existing funds to begin what still would be a significant incentive program. The bill by Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey, would have less impact on utility companies as well as consumers.

"I think it's better to start small and work our way forward," said Bowen, who chairs the Senate energy committee.

Bernadette Del Chiaro of Environment California, a nonprofit environment organization that supports Schwarzenegger's proposal, argued lawmakers shouldn't be leery of a rate increase even in an election year because polls show voters favor solar energy.

"It all comes down to $3 a year," for a typical residential rate boost, she argued. "We're talking about a Starbucks Frappuccino a year."

The Senate, meanwhile, approved an amended version of an energy deregulation bill by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, despite Schwarzenegger's opposition. The measure was sent back to the Assembly on a 22-14 vote.

Bowen said her solar bill coupled with Nunez's bill would make for a complete energy policy, providing long-term stability three years after the state's devastating power crisis.

Nunez's bill would require utilities to prepare long-range plans to meet their customers' power needs and allow them to build their own power plants once again if the Public Utilities Commission decides that's the cheapest way to do it.

But Sen. Ross Johnson, R-Irvine, suggested that the utilities couldn't be trusted.

"They used to say that Jesse James had a mask and a gun and he was a thief," he said. "These people have business suits and fountain pens and they can sign checks that inundate us with television ads to get us to do things their way. Hell with them. Vote no."

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