According to Onell Soto, "Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is poised to sign a bill to ensure that a key financial benefit for installing solar power systems doesn’t go away too soon."

This is not a benefit for all. Even under the new law, only 5% of all SDG&E customers will be eligible for net metering. At the current time, less than 2.5% of all SDG&E customers have grid-connected solar panels that make them eligible to zero out their electric bills, based on their excess power being taken by SDG&E for sale elsewhere.

As for the rest of us, there is always the option to pull more and more of our power-hungry appliances off the grid.

One local merchant chain offers a 45-watt off-grid solar panel setup for under $300. A power inverter for converting DC into 120-volt AC is available for about $50. 12-volt batteries are available at any auto parts store. The combination is enough to power a laptop computer with ink jet printer or a couple of table lamps at night.

Purchasing additional panels every few months could lead to powering down the typical electricity bill by half or more per participating household.

The benefits of the above off-grid setup is that not one dime goes to the local power utility, and the entire setup appears to be exempt from San Diego's recently increased grid-connected solar system permit fee. Such full-blown systems are eligible for state and federal tax breaks and other incentives, but they require licensed contractor installment and at least $20,000 to invest in installation and remodeling.

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