June 10, 2013

Shared Solar Bills Pass California Senate, Assembly

This is getting real, folks.  California legislators voted this week to advance two different bills that open up access to solar to the 75+ percent of energy customers who can’t put it on their own roof.  Here’s the skinny on the two bills and what we need you to do to make sure shared solar becomes a reality in California this legislative session.

Senate Bill 43, authored by longtime solar champion Senator Lois Wolk, creates a 500MW pilot program that would enable customers of PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E to sign up to participate in shared renewable energy facilities, and receive a credit on their utility bill for the energy produced by their share of the project.  SB 43 was approved by the California Senate Thursday on a 27-9 vote.

Assembly Bill 1014, authored by Assemblyman Das Williams, builds off a  settlement agreement currently before the CPUC to create a “Green Option” tariff program, which was negotiated this spring between investor-owned utility PG&E, ratepayer advocates, environmental advocates, and unions.  AB 1014 expands this program to the state’s two other major utilities: SCE and SDG&E.   AB 1014 was approved by the Assembly Friday on a 55-17 vote.

Vote Solar has been working with a broad coalition of allies to support the bills’ passage and we’re thrilled to have reached this milestone. Now we’ve got to keep the pressure on to make sure we get the best possible outcome as these bills continue to move through the legislature. There are a couple key provisions at stake:

1. Letting the market innovate. SB 43 allows organizations developing shared renewable energy projects to interface directly with customers; they could market their projects  to customers and charge them for their share of the clean energy generation.  AB 1014 puts the utility in the middle of this transaction, so that customers pay the utility for clean energy at a set rate, and the utility in turn buys the energy from developers.  This limits the ability of the market to innovate and create offerings tailored to customer interests, whether it be specific project locations, technologies, or financing needs.  We believe AB 1014 should, at minimum, contain provisions that allow the market to innovate within the green tariff to meet customer desires, so more people buy in, and we get more clean energy powering our homes and businesses, faster.

2. Making sure customers get a fair deal. Whether it’s the utility or a third party that’s signing contracts with consumers, we have to make sure that the terms of those deals provide a fair value for the clean energy generation.  SB 43 proposes to accomplish this by asking the Public Utilities Commission to do a cost-benefit analysis and determine what the renewable energy is worth, then participants’ bill credit equal to that value – pretty straightforward.  AB 1014 adopts the credits and charges for participants outlined in the PG&E-TURN proposed settlement, which include benefits of renewables as the CPUC determines them but also includes departing load charges that customers would have to pay in order to participate in shared renewable energy projects.  We’ll need to stay vigilant as these bills move forward to ensure the provisions around pricing are fair to consumers.

Getting the specifics of the policy design right will be critical, or course, for creating a healthy, well-functioning shared renewables market in California. But we are on the brink of a major step: allowing thousands of Californians who can’t put renewables on their own property – renters, businesses, schools, churches, the military, public agencies – to invest in more clean energy for the first time. The momentum in the Legislature shows that shared renewable energy is a truly an idea whose time has come. Maybe that’s because it’s common sense – give Californians more control over their individual energy choices, create new jobs in an industry that’s here to stay, bring more clean energy to our communities.  Win-win-win.

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