California Community Solar Bill Bites The Dust

Community solar power got left out in the cold by the the politicians in Sacramento.

A bill that would have given renters and others who don’t have a roof of their own a chance to get in on the money-saving solar action – as they can now in Colorado under similar legislation – died without a vote late last week when the California State Legislature adjourned for the year.

california community solar

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The program would have applied to customers of the state’s three big investor-owned utilities, and proponents blamed two of those utilities for fatally stalling the legislation in the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce.

“Unfortunately, PG&E and Southern California Edison control the committee,” Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis), the author of Senate Bill 843, said in a statement. “There was an agreement between the Assembly Speaker, the Committee Chair, and me that would have scaled the bill down to a pilot program under the Public Utilities Commission’s guidance and oversight. That agreement wasn’t honored and the bill died in committee, depriving the public of innovative energy policy in line with Governor Brown’s initiatives.”

The bill had a wide range of supporters, from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights to the U.S. Navy. But, Wolk said, “Unfortunately, the coalition of support behind this measure was simply no match for the high paid lobbyists and the campaign contributions of these monopoly corporations.”

The California legislation would actually have applied to wind and other renewable energy sources, in addition to solar. But it was on solar where the biggest impact was expected by giving customers of Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric the opportunity to essentially buy solar power, as subscribers, from a shared project, and then get a credit on their electricity bill for the power produced.

PG&E said it opposed SB 843 because by allowing participating customers to reduce or even zero out their electricity bills, while not reducing the utility’s distribution and maintenance costs proportionately, the proposed program would “burden nonparticipating customers when they already face other challenges.”

This is the same argument that has been used against California’s net metering program that home and business owners can use to trim their power bills. The irony is that community solar would have extended access to solar power’s cost-saving benefits to communities that don’t now have the means, for a variety of reasons, to take advantage of net metering. That’s why the Ella Baker Center called it “a green choice for consumers, from low-income renters to underfunded public schools.”

california distributed solar generation

image via Shutterstock

The failure to pass community solar no doubt tarnishes California’s reputation as a leader in solar power, especially given how Colorado seems to be successfully moving forward on the same front.

There, the first, 4.5-megawatt round of solar gardens program was gobbled up by developers in a matter of minutes. The program allows for Xcel customers to subscribe to solar installations up to 500 kilowatts in size and receive credit on their electrical bill for the energy generated by the system.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • craigbhill

    Too bad the legislature couldn’t have thrown the two monopolies a bone, in the form that some of the savings would go to them, to offset their miniscule but real costs, just to get the program off the ground. This is a real failure on both sides, net loss to the planet. Way ta go, dumkopfs.

    • Pete

      I’m sure the community solar effort will be back next year. I wonder if one solution might be to upgrade in-state distributed so that it qualifies in the within the highest RPS category. This would seemingly give the utilities a tangible benefit while encouraging installations.
      Pete