California senate transport committee passes solar parking canopy and highwayside law


Senate Bill 49, introduced by Senator Josh Becker (D-San Mateo), aims to support the buildout of solar above parking lots and along highways throughout California. It was unanimously passed by the California Senate Transportation Committee by a bipartisan 11:0 vote. 

The bill will next head to the Senate Governance and Finance Committee. If approved, the legislation will then be reviewed by the state senate’s Appropriations Committee. 

California targets a 100% clean energy goal by 2045. State planners estimate that California will need 110 GW of new solar to get there. SB 49 is expected to make it easier for the state to develop state capacity, energy storage, and transmission while reducing the need to disturb undeveloped land. 

The bill includes two main provisions. First, it provides a sales tax exemption for the materials to build solar canopies over parking lots. Second, it requires the state to develop a plan to make its highway rights-of-way available for solar, energy storage and transmission infrastructure. By leasing state-controlled land along highways for solar power, California can earn revenue from lease payments and save money through avoided maintenance costs of leased areas. 

“We are going to need a lot more solar, that means a lot more land. So how can we do this by preserving sensitive ecosystems protecting our productive agricultural lands from excessive encroachment? These two strategies in this bill are good ways to build more solar without displacing other uses,” said Senator Becker. 

The bill is sponsored by a coalition of 64 organizations, including Environment California, Environmental Working Group, and CALPIRG, among others. 

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reports that pavement makes up 35% to 50% of total surface area in cities, and 40% of that pavement is parking lots. Placing a solar canopy over an existing parking lot is a more efficient use of space than acquiring land for a ground mount system. 

Los Angeles County alone has 101 square miles of parking lots, and about 25% of the state’s population. A press release by Senator Becker extrapolates these numbers by population, inferring that there should be approximately 400 square miles of parking lots in the state, equivalent to 26 GW of solar canopies. 

Analysis from Yale University found that more than one-third of the state’s electricity could come from solar-covered parking lots. The authors found that the final 8,416 sites across the state could generate 9,042 GWh of electricity within their first year of operation. The total capacity of these sites was 7,021 MW of solar power. Priced at $3.00 per watt to install, the solar canopies would generate approximately $21 billion in construction activity. 

In addition to covering parking lots, the legislation would make tax incentives available for building highway-side solar. California has over 52,000 lane miles in its state highway system and over 23,000 lane miles of federal interstate highways, freeways, and expressways, reports Caltrans. 

“California’s ample supply of parking lots and highways can contribute substantially [to supporting a transition to clean energy]” said Steven King, clean energy advocate, Environment California. “By moving this bill forward, the state Senate can make sure California keeps its nation-leading solar capacity growing. We thank Chair Lena Gonzalez, the Senate Transportation Committee, and Sen. Josh Becker for passing SB 49 out of committee today.” 

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