California State License Board takes on the issue of who can install solar plus storage

In a partial victory against needless new barriers to growing the green economy and decarbonizing the electric system, the Legislative Committee of the California State License Board (CSLB) pushed back this week against a campaign to prohibit solar contractors in California from installing paired solar plus storage systems.  We stood with the many solar installers who showed up in force for a public hearing in Sacramento, making the case that a rising solar industry will create good jobs for many types of solar workers including electricians.

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Currently, state regulations allow solar contractors (C-46 licenses) to install a battery energy storage system (BESS) at the same time of solar photovoltaic installation. However, only electrical contractors (C-10 licenses) are permitted to install standalone BESS in existing buildings. The electrical workers union and a handful of large electrical contractors have pressed the CSLB to change the state rules to allow only C-10 contractors to install behind-the-meter solar paired with battery storage.  However, they failed to provide credible evidence that there are problems with solar contractors currently doing this work – and in fact, C-46 contractors do their work as safely as C-10s because they are subject to the same engineering, permitting and inspections they are.

Vote Solar was there to testify that the need for energy storage systems and the jobs needed to install them are growing rapidly with an expected 10-fold increase in storage systems installed by 2030 as California moves towards a carbon-free electric system.  I told the Committee that energy storage systems will be needed in all sizes, throughout the grid and on the grid’s edge – for both behind-the-meter and in-front-of -the-meter systems. I urged the CSLB to avoid adopting regulations that would hold back the growth of the solar workforce, slow storage deployment and reduce competitive forces in the industry.  I also argued that solar installers, electrical contractors and utility workers are all needed for the task of decarbonizing the electric system.

Several electrical contractors argued that installing a BESS requires a connection to a building’s electrical panel and that only a certified electrician could perform that work. The solar installers, on the other hand, argued that BTM solar plus storage systems are  “plug and play” with an installation process similar to that of a heat pump or air conditioner.

Many solar installers pointed out that they have been connecting PV systems to homes and commercial buildings for decades without any problems.  In response, an electrical workers’ attorney argued that the CSLB did not need any evidence that there has been a problem with the current practice of installing solar or solar plus storage.  Instead, he argued the CSLB could take a “precautionary” action to prohibit solar contractors from installing solar plus storage based on the potential for harm.

At the end of the six hour hearing, the CSLB Legislative Committee voted to have its staff further investigate what would be an appropriate cap on the size of BTM solar plus storage that could be installed by solar contractors.  A staff report initially put forward an option that systems up to 10 kW could be installed by solar contractors. However, Vote Solar staff pointed out to the Committee that more than 70% of commercial PV systems in California are larger than 10 kW and that such a cap would be arbitrary and discriminatory.   The California Solar and Storage Association requested that it be consulted in the process of determining an appropriate cap on system size.

Vote Solar intends to work closely with the solar industry to assure that the final regulations adopted by the CSLB recognize the need for growing a well-qualified solar workforce and to avoid arbitrary limitations on which contractors can perform the work. The solar industry is already one of the fastest growing job sectors in the United States.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy there are already twice as many people working in solar than the combined number of people working at coal, oil and gas power plants.  America’s growing clean energy industry is ready and able to produce good, diverse career opportunities, and we look forward to finding a more productive way to work with both solar installers and electrical contractors to live up to that promise.

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