California Shared Renewables Bill Poised for Success

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California looks set to make clean energy history once again. Yesterday, the California Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee resoundingly approved SB 43, a pioneering shared renewables program, in an 11-1 vote. This was a critical hurdle; now that we have approval from the policy committee, prospects look very good for the Assembly to approve the bill and put it on Gov. Brown’s desk. With the Governor’s support, in 2014 California will launch the nation’s largest program of its kind, allowing thousands of Californians who can’t put renewables on their own property — renters, businesses, schools, churches, the military, public agencies — to invest in up to 100% clean energy for the first time.

Authored by longtime solar champion Senator Lois Wolk and approved by the Senate in May, SB 43 creates a 600 MW pilot program that will enable customers of PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E to sign up to participate in shared renewable energy facilities, and receive credits and charges on their utility bill for the energy produced by their share of the project. (A companion bill, authored by Assemblymember Das Williams, was approved in the Assembly in May; AB 1014 was then made into a two-year bill in order to simplify to one legislative vehicle for this year.) Here’s a summary of the key elements of SB 43 as it was approved on Monday:

  • Directs the three utilities to buy an additional 600 MW of new renewable energy, using existing procurement mechanisms like the Renewable Auction Mechanism (RAM) and the feed-in tariff, from projects up to 20MW in size.
  • Allows customers to sign up to get as much renewable energy on their bill as they want. Note that the bill language does not preclude the ability for subscribers to sign up with a specific clean energy project–although we will need to work at the CPUC during implementation to ensure that customer choice is made available, as this is a critical component of a shared renewables program.
  • Sets aside at least 100 MW for residential renters (some of the more difficult customers to serve) and another 100 MW for clean energy projects that will be built in the most environmentally disadvantaged communities, as defined by CalEPA.
  • Ensures that subscribers will receive the full ratepayer value of the clean energy they buy. As the CPUC calculates the grid values of renewables, it must then ensure those values are added to the subscriber bill credit. So while customers signing up in the early days of the program may pay a premium to participate, we envision that premium falling and becoming a cost savings as the cost of solar and other renewables continues to drop, and as the CPUC quantifies the many ratepayer benefits of clean energy.
  • Requires applications for similar programs filed earlier this year (both PG&E and SDG&E have such applications before the CPUC now) to be made consistent with the bill.

Shared renewables is a common sense idea whose time has come in the Golden State. We’re thrilled about the campaign’s progress, and very grateful to the many hundreds of citizen members and organizations that have lent their voices to the effort. Let’s ensure we get the bill out of the Legislature and signed by the Governor, and then work hard at the CPUC to get the implementation framework right. If we do, we’ll unlock huge new private investment in renewable energy and lay the groundwork for expanding the program, so one day soon we really are providing every Californian with the opportunity to be 100% powered by the sun.

You can view the latest version of SB 43 here. Senator Wolk’s press release on the committee vote here. To learn more about shared renewable energy projects and policies across the country, visit www.sharedrenewables.org.

Vote Solar is a non-profit grassroots organization working to fight climate change and foster economic opportunity by bringing solar energy into the mainstream.

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About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

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