California community solar + storage bill focuses on resilient power for low-income residents

california storage bill

This article has been updated to better explain the subscription terms.

California’s State Assembly Committee on Utilities and Energy is backing a bill that would establish a new state program to expand access to resilient renewable energy via community solar paired with storage. At least 51% of the power generated by each community solar project built under AB 2316 must serve low-income customers or service organizations.

California’s community solar program isn’t solely geared around customer bill savings. There are two other factors at play here. One, is California’s mounting issues with wildfires and blackouts and the need for more broadly accessible, resilient renewable energy in communities that need it.

“As we face increasing heat waves, blackouts, and drought, working class communities need cleaner and more affordable energy. Without the capital to pay for upfront costs, and lacking home ownership, low-income Californians and renters are often cut off from the benefits of renewable energy and reduced utility bills,” said Alexis Sutterman, Energy Equity Program Manager at the California Environmental Justice Alliance. “Community renewable energy is an opportunity to ensure that working class communities of color can receive the health and economic benefits of clean energy in their neighborhoods.”

Two, it is also devised for builders and homeowners to meet the state building codes that mandate solar systems for new residential construction as of 2020, and solar systems paired with storage in the construction of multi-family housing and nonresidential construction starting in 2022.

And of course, there are also bill savings. Under this bill, subscribers sign up and earn credits on their electrical bills (with a “fee” removed as a portion of the credit that goes back to the developer), or 2) purchasing shares of a community solar project equal to their energy needs. Typically, community solar subscribers around the country see an automatic 10 to 15 percent bill savings.

This bill, backed by a coalition that includes the California Environmental Justice Alliance, the Coalition of California Utility Workers, and The Utility Reform Network (TURN), would compensate subscribers based on the time-differentiated value of the project’s generation.

“By storing more solar power and using it during flex alerts, we can reduce our dependence on peaker power plants that concentrate even more pollution in disadvantaged communities,” said Susannah Churchill, Western Regional Director at Vote Solar.

In 2013, the legislature passed SB 43, the Green Tariff Shared Renewables (GTSR) Program, which attempted to set up something akin to community renewables with a subprogram called Enhanced Community Renewables (ECR). But after nine years, there are no ECR projects in operation in California. A fact sheet from assemblymember Christopher Ward pins the failure of GTSR on …

“a poor rate structure which prevents project financeability. Repeated attempts to improve ECR viability have fallen short at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and there is no indication that efforts.”

“GTSR did not envision the need for energy storage to be associated with projects and is therefore not applicable with the California’s current grid demands. In addition, GTSR is statutorily capped at 600 megawatts and can only serve “bundled” customers. This means that even if the ECR program became financially viable, it would not be available to the growing population of Community Choice Aggregator (CCA) and Energy Service Provider (ESP) customers.”

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