History of Solar Energy in California

Palm trees and sunset in California

California leads the nation in home solar panel installation in the United States. Its dominance in solar energy is due to its deserved sunny reputation and the state’s supportive solar policies. California homeowners who install solar panels can take advantage of a solar property tax exclusion, which ensures that homeowners and businesses can install solar energy without a reassessment of property taxes. As well, Governor Jerry Brown has proposed a goal of making California 50 percent reliable on renewable energy by 2050.


The spirit of encouraging energy independence has its roots in several Congressional actions in the late 1970s as part of the National Energy Act. In particular, the Public Utility Regulatory Act (PURPA) of 1978 encouraged renewable energies by allowed independent power producers to connect to local utilities. Also part of the act was the Energy Tax Act, which gave income tax credits to residents using solar, wind or geothermal sources of energy.


In California under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005, the Million Solar Roofs Program took effect, promising to reach 1,940 megawatts of installed solar capacity by the end of 2016. It’s now managed under the California Solar Initiative1 moniker, which continues to encourage residents and business owners — through varying incentives and programs — to install solar panels and convert to solar power as a way to reduce impact of producing and consuming fossil fuels on the environment.


California is also home to three of the world’s largest solar power plants. Solar Star, operated by BHE Renewables, is a 579-megawatt solar project in Antelope Valley, Calif., which opened in June 2015, and it currently claims the top title. The other two top contenders are both 550-megawatt solar power plants, operated by First Solar – one, Desert Solar, is in Desert Center, Calif., near Joshua Tree National Park, and the other, Topaz Solar, is in San Luis Obispo County. The future of solar energy looks bright in California.

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1About the California Solar Initiative, http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/puc/energy/solar/aboutsolar.htm

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