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Energy storage debate becomes charged over licensing restrictions

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Sullivan Solar Power

After hours of public testimony yesterday in San Diego, the California State License Board unanimously passed a motion that could result in a change to the regulations that specifies which type of contractors are allowed to install battery energy storage systems. The meeting brought a crowd of over 200 people, mostly from California, debating whether a contractor with a C-46 license should be able to install energy storage, or if those installations should only be done by C-10 contractors and their certified electrician employees. The final vote sides with the California State License Board staff’s recommendation to put the licensing issue through the regulatory process.

Picture of Sullivan Solar Power's team members debating restrictions on contractor types authorized to install battery storage

All speakers made it clear they support solar and energy storage and recognize its importance to the solar industry. Solar paired with batteries allow the customer to store excess solar power to use later in the day when the utilities can charge a higher amount. The debate, however, is which classification of contractor and their employees can safely install the energy storage units that are slated to help California reach its clean energy goals.

Before the public testimony portion of the meeting, former California state senator and Pro Tempore, Kevin De León, gave remarks as to why he believes only state licensed electricians should install energy storage. De León authored Senate Bill 100, which was signed into law last year by Governor Jerry Brown, and the bill will move California to 100 percent clean energy by 2045. Other cities and states have followed California’s lead and are looking to make the legally-binding switch to clean energy.

“One thing I want to underscore: this about growing the middle class and making sure we have highly trained individuals,” said De León. “It is very clear that my vision [when authoring legislation] was to make sure that those individuals who do this job to implement our energy goals for California are highly trained individuals, because any type of safety issue may roll us back.”

The loudest opponent of denying a C-46 contractor to install energy storage was the California solar and storage industry. San Diego-based Sullivan Solar Power, the third largest residential energy storage developer in California, was a black sheep in the crowd. They were the only residential solar power company advocating against the dozens of solar companies as well as solar panel, inverter and battery manufacturers.

“I founded Sullivan Solar Power 15 years ago to fundamentally change the way we generate electricity, and we took an important, unpopular stand today for the solar industry, advocating for what we think is right for solar customers and the future of clean energy,” said Daniel Sullivan, founder and president of Sullivan Solar Power, ”Battery storage is complex and if we want to move away from fossil fuels and to a more resilient grid with distributed generation and distributed storage, this can only be done by qualified individuals, who are state-licensed electricians.”

The Safe Energy Storage coalition echoed Sullivan’s sentiment. The group, comprised of members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the State Building and Construction Trades Council and the California Professional Firefighters, among others, support the restriction. They stated it's necessary to protect consumers from improper installations. Environmental nonprofits such as Sierra Club San Diego and Climate Action Campaign also sided with restricting licensing to ensure solar and storage continue to progress in California.

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