SAN FRANCISCO – Hoping to make California a world leader in solar power, state energy regulators Thursday approved some $3 billion in customer rebates over the next decade to encourage people to install solar panels on their roofs. The goal is to get Californians to install equipment capable of producing 3,000 megawatts of solar electricity on 1 million homes, businesses and public buildings over the next 10 years. That is enough energy to power 2.3 million homes. The rebates will be funded by a surcharge on gas and electricity bills. Most residential customers will pay an extra $12 a year. “The California Solar Initiative is the largest solar program in the country, and I hope it will be a model for other states,” said Dian Grueneich, a member of the state Public Utility Commission. “The program will be a major source of dependable and environmentally friendly electricity.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGift Box shows no rust in San Antonio Stakes win at Santa Anita The PUC voted 3-1 to approve $2.9 billion in rebates for solar panels between 2007 and 2016. Last month, the five-member commission approved $300 million in rebates for 2006. The commission also stated Thursday that the program will be open to Los Angeles customers served by the city-run Department of Water and Power, which is not regulated by the PUC. Residents in L.A. and neighboring cities can apply for rebates that in 2006 will shave $7,000 off the price of an average solar system, which is $20,000. Advocates said the program will make solar energy more affordable, create jobs and reduce air pollution, including emissions of heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming. The project incorporates many of the same provisions in a plan advanced by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. That plan had bipartisan support but died in the Legislature last year because of disputes over its labor provisions. “When I ran for office, I promised the people of California an affordable, reliable and more environmentally friendly energy supply,” Schwarzenegger said in a printed statement. “Today is a big step toward that goal.” Only about 100 megawatts, 0.3 percent of California’s electricity capacity, now comes from rooftop solar panels, installed on about 15,000 homes and businesses, according to Environment California. Thursday’s initiative includes $2.5 billion in rebates for installation of solar panels at homes, businesses and public buildings already in use. An additional $350 million in rebates will be offered for installing solar panels when homes are built. The initiative rewards people who act fast. Home or business owners who install panels this year will be eligible for a $2.80 rebate for each watt of capacity installed. The rebate will drop to 25 cents per watt by 2016. Critics questioned whether ratepayers should subsidize the most expensive form of renewable energy and whether the program will drive down the costs of solar energy, as backers claim. “We need rates to go down, but this goes in the other direction,” said Joseph Lyons, a lobbyist for the California Manufacturers and Technology Association. Program advocates said they expect the public spending will lead to more solar energy ventures. “We anticipate that there are going to be a lot of companies getting into this space and thriving in this space,” said Matthew Cheney, chief executive of San Francisco-based Renewable Ventures, which provides financing for renewable energy projects. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!