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LA County held a Stakeholders Meeting on May 5 to discuss the present state of development for the LA County Energy Program. The vast majority of the two hour presentation was focused on energy efficiency measures and how those will be developed and deployed. Only secondarily was support for solar installations mentioned. Our report on the meeting follows the break.This meeting, like the previous Stakeholders Meeting last December (read about it here), was held in the Board Meeting Room at MTA headquarters. While there were a number of solar industry folks on hand - notably Zoe Starr (head of the LA Renewable Energy Society), Ron Mulick (President, SoCalSEIA) and Joia Gibble (LARES member) - the majority of the audience either came from the Cities or from the building efficiency industry - notably Dan Thomsen (President & Founder, The Building Doctors). The presentation reflected that audience, focusing on how the LA County Energy Program will pull together many different programs and rebates around home retrofits and efficiency upgrades, with AB 811 funding being merely a part of that equation, and support for solar an even smaller part.
This distinction between the energy efficiency aspects of the program compared to the energy generation portion was never more apparent than in the discussion of consumer protection and the need for contractor credentialing. Indeed, contractors looking to work in the energy efficiency sector must have at a minimum a BPI Building Analyst certification, while additional credentials, such as being a HERS II Whole House Energy Rater will be required for other aspects of the energy efficiency program. What about contractors doing solar power installations? What credentials must they have? "Only those required by the California Solar Initiative” was the response. When it was pointed out that the only requirement for being listed under CSI was to send your contact information in to the website, the consultants designing the system simply looked blankly back and observed that they really had not thought of that issue. How can that be? After all, energy efficiency measures are small potatoes, dollars wise, compared to solar installations, and yet the folks designing the Program have way more to say about contractors doing efficiency work than those installing solar? Where are the consumer protections there? In side conversations after the meeting it was stressed that the program should consider requiring NABCEP Certification for all contractors who are participating. Such a requirement would protect consumers from shoddy workmanship and help raise the professional standards of the solar installer industry in LA County - a win-win situation to be sure.
Some additional details that emerged from this meeting:
It is that last criteria that we anticipate excluding the most potential participants. Given the steep drop in property values since the LA County peak in 2006 and the time it takes to build equity in a home through mortgage payments, our calculations indicate that anyone who purchased their home after 2002 will be excluded on this basis.
In any event, it is now clear that what will be presented to the County Board of Supervisors on May 25 will be a framework and nothing more. Assuming passage on the 25th, the program staff will continue to work out the details while the validation lawsuit proceeds. If all goes well, the first loans are expected to be provided sometime in September.
Thus, the LA County Energy Program remains very much a work in progress. Will high interest rates and overly restrictive participation criteria doom the program to failure? Will a lack of proper solar installer credentialing allow for shoddy work and unhappy consumers? Will a failure to provide timely progress payments on solar jobs exclude small business owners - even those with the most sterling credentials like Run on Sun - to the benefit of the VC-funded national players? Or will the Program achieve its potential to usher in a new wave of green jobs and greener homes?