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Take It From the Top

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By Marie Cunningham

Published Apr 19, 2010 8:36 AM


Sunshine and smog: California has plenty of both. But what if we could use one to reduce the other?

A joint study from the UCLA and UC-Berkeley law schools titled "In Our Backyard: How to Increase Renewable Energy Production on Big Buildings and Other Local Spaces" argues that by embracing renewable energy production in California — such as solar power — the state can decrease its greenhouse gas emissions, and even lower energy costs.

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"If we can switch to our renewable technologies, it will have a major impact on our carbon footprint," claims Ethan Elkind J.D. '06, Bank of America Climate Change Research Fellow at UCLA Law and UC-Berkeley Law schools, and the study's primary author. "Solar energy is the cleanest, most efficient, probably cheapest way to bring energy to California."

The electric sector is the state's second-largest producer of greenhouse gases, behind transportation. "In Our Backyard" argues that by installing renewable energy infrastructure on large buildings and other local spaces, we can reduce our reliance on fossil fuel burning plants that are located far from consumers and require miles of bulky, expensive transmission lines to deliver electricity.

With all its potential, why isn't more renewable energy being generated in and around our neighborhoods? Financing is one barrier. But two new solar initiatives in California, both of which became law in January, are giving consumers more incentive to invest in clean energy.

Written by Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), Assembly Bill 920 sets up a net-metering program that requires utility companies to give cash or credit to consumers who produce more energy than they use annually. Previously, the utility company would get to keep any surplus energy for free.

Senate Bill 32 expands the state's feed-in tariff program by increasing the amount of electricity that can be sold to a utility company from 1.5 to 3 megawatts. Authored by Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino), SB 32 has the potential to stimulate the growth of large-scale solar panel installation in open areas like warehouse rooftops.

"We've got all these opportunities on big spaces, big rooftops, along our highway land, along the California aqueduct," says Elkind. By installing solar panels in some of these open areas, "we could get a lot of [energy] very quickly."

Learn about smart grids, organic gardens, green buildings and many more ways that UCLA — and Bruins of all ages and backgrounds — are creating a sustainable future. Visit www.sustain.ucla.edu

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