California’s shared community solar bills pass committee

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Two crucial shared solar bills with a combined potential for up to 1200MW have passed committee stage in the California legislature following an amendment to appease the state's investor owned utilities.

Assembly Bill 1014 aims to enable residential and commercial consumers to purchase solar energy from an off-site system or project of up to 20MW. It is estimated that as many as 75% of California utility customers cannot install their own on-site generation due to shading from trees or other buildings or because they rent their home or business premises.

The Assembly Utility and Commerce Committee passed SB1014 on a vote of 11-0, with no opposing testimony despite original opposition from California's IOUs. Committee members, however, voted to amend the bill so that consumers are required to purchase solar energy from their utility, rather than directly from developers.

The following day, SB 43 was passed in the California Senate Energy Committee without amendments even though the bill enables direct purchasing of solar energy from developers.

The votes mark a U-turn for California's investor-owned utilities, which had opposed the bills when they were first introduced two years ago, said Tom Price, policy and market strategies director at Clean Path, a solar project investment firm which helped author the legislation.

“We now have California's three largest utilities pushing for community shared solar,” he said. “There is now universal recognition between regulators, policymakers, utilities and consumer groups that this is a huge, underserved market. From the commercial side, it's a missed opportunity, from the consumer side, it's a gaping inequity. There is no one who can say it's fair that a consumer can't choose solar if they don't own their home.”

Under the SB 1014 amendments, utilities will be able to contract directly with developers to provide solar power purchase options from their customers who would pay a 20%-30% premium on their monthly bill.

A spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric said: “We are a strong supporter of solar; close to 30% of the rooftop systems nationwide are in our service area. AB 1014 was amended so that it would not … shift costs to non-participating customers, which is why we support the bill. Regarding SB 43, our understanding is that the author is working on amendments, so we will review those amendments when they are made available.”

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