Wall Street Journal reporting April 24, 2009…Defying a global trend of weak solar demand, owners of homes and businesses in California installed a record 78 megawatts of solar panels in the first quarter of 2009, the California Public Utilities Commission said Friday.

While solar-panel prices have fallen 25% or more, on average, due to a global slowdown in demand, rooftop solar panels remain in high demand in California, the world’s third-largest solar market, the CPUC data show.

The strength of California’s solar market is due largely to generous state incentives, coupled with federal tax credits that greatly reduce the cost of installation and the fact that California has among the highest utility rates in the nation, making self-generated solar power competitive with conventional utility power, especially for large users.

The state is spending $3.3 billion to install 3,000 megawatts of solar panels over 10 years.

In a quarterly report on a solar rebate program it administers, the CPUC cited a recent change in the federal tax code that allows homeowners a larger tax credit for solar installations as a factor driving strength in that market.

Solar rebate applications filed with the CPUC in the first quarter hit a new quarterly record for capacity, at 52 megawatts, since the program started in January 2007, while the number of applications was down compared with the fourth quarter, the CPUC said.

To date, customers of utilities owned by PG&E Corp. (PCG), Edison International (EIX) and Sempra Energy (SRE) have installed 211 megawatts of new rooftop solar generation since 2007, the CPUC said. Statewide, California generates more than 500 megawatts of power from solar panels, the agency said.