California board votes to limit who can install energy storage

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Last night the Legislative Committee of California’s Contractor State License Board (CSLB) voted to begin the process of limiting the installation of energy storage systems, including those that accompany rooftop solar, to licensed electricians.

In specific terms, this means those who hold a C-10 electrical license, and not solar installers who only hold C-46 licenses. While the committee did not go forward with an outright ban, the option that it chose would allow solar installers with C-46 licenses to install energy storage only under the following circumstances:

  • Limit to a PV system up to 10kW on a single-family dwelling or duplex with a battery system that must not exceed a 5kW backup/20kWh energy
  • The battery system is installed at same time as solar PV system
  • No upgrade or alteration is made to the existing electrical system

California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA) blamed both the utilities and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), which had pushed for the outright ban on installations by C-46 license holders. The organization had choice words for CSLB’s action:

It was a blatant, outright abuse of power threatening to lead to arbitrary and capricious restrictions on thousands of workers and their contractor employers with absolutely no empirical data in support: simply because the utilities and the IBEW say so.  

CALSSA and Vote Solar testified against the proposal during last night’s five-hour meeting, and CALSSA mobilized its members to testify as well. The organization says that concerns over safety are a “sham” and cites what it describes as the “impeccable” record of California’s solar installers, most of whom hold C-46 licenses.

“Watching the investor owned utilities and their henchmen bend a state agency to their will in broad daylight, attacking us in yet another forum at the expense of harming real businesses not to mention the state’s clean energy goals, was disturbing,” stated CALSSA.

But they were not alone; Sierra Club also testified in favor of the IBEW-backed proposal to entirely limit the installation of energy storage to C-10 license holders. In an email to pv magazine, Sierra Club described its position as merely wanting to “continue” the requirement that only C-10 licensed contractors can install energy storage, and “closing a loophole” that allowed non-electricians to install batteries. Sierra Club’s testimony provided further insight into its position:

We must have qualified people install and maintain battery storage systems in the safest and most effective manner whether they are stand alone or are paired with solar. For us, that means all battery storage systems – from residential to utility scale – should be installed only by licensed C-10 contractors with state certified electricians.

This is far from the end; CALSSA says that despite the desire of the IBEW and the utilities to put this matter to rest at the next meeting on September 24, that this is not going to happen. Instead, CALSSA says that it will “likely take months” for CSLB to develop the details of this restriction, which will be followed by another hearing and vote. “We are talking 2-3 years before any potential change hits the market,” stated CALSSA.

 

Update: This article was updated at 9:45 AM EST on August 8 to include Sierra Club’s perspective.