California solar bill would create one of the most equitable community solar programs in the US


California’s State Assembly recently passed AB 2316, which calls for 51% of the power generated by the new community solar program to benefit low-income customers or service organizations. A unique feature of the bill is that it avoids energy rate increases among nonparticipating customers by basing bill credits solely on the benefits provided to the grid and ratepayers.

Community solar enables utility customers to subscribe to a portion of a solar array, usually located in or near their community. As the solar array produces energy, subscribers receive a portion of the revenue from the energy produced, typically as a savings on their monthly electric bill — a critical factor for low-income and disadvantaged communities whose energy burden is three times higher than for non-low-income households. Additionally, low-income residents may not have a high enough credit rating to secure low-cost financing, and renters don’t have the rooftops to put the solar panels on.

“Community renewable energy is an opportunity to ensure working class communities of color can receive the health and economic benefits of clean energy in their neighborhoods while combating climate change. Pairing AB 2316 with a $1 billion state budget investment will ensure communities most harmed by pollution are positioned to lead this transition,” said Alexis Sutterman, energy equity program manager at the California Environmental Justice Alliance.

AB 2316 also provides accountability for results and transparency through routine reports to lawmakers on program growth and low-income subscriber participation. It also ensures livable wages for workers and helps builders meet state building code requirements that mandate solar systems for new construction. The California Public Utilities Commission will be required to evaluate existing programs based largely on their ability to meet the criteria described above, and to justify in a report to the Legislature reasons for terminating, modifying, or retaining them.

“Community renewable programs are taking off in other states and it’s time for California to take a proven, cost-effective path to clean energy access and utility bill savings for all,” said Charlie Coggeshall, director of policy and regulatory affairs at the Coalition for Community Solar Access, sponsor of the bill.

The bill has the support of the California Environmental Justice Alliance, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resource Defense Council, Vote Solar, The Utility Reform Network, among others.

“We can’t win unless clean energy access is a right equally available to all Californians,” said Susannah Churchill, Western Regional Director at Vote Solar. “This bill provides a proven solution we can scale to finally enable millions of Californians to access clean energy. California has been the cradle of solar power but its policies have unfairly excluded half the state, making this bill a vital and overdue reform.”

Next the bill goes to the Democrat-controlled Senate, must be agreed upon by both chambers, and then eventually on to the desk of Governor Newsom.

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