shared renewables

 

Momentum is building for shared renewable energy in California. Late last week the two bills we’ve been following there, SB 43 and AB 1014, passed with strong margins in their chambers of origin -- marking the first time this legislation has moved beyond committee to pass in either chamber.

The author of SB 43, Senator Lois Wolk, worked late into the night to draft last-minute amendments that would address concerns expressed by both Senator Alex Padilla and several utilities. The concerns were about an issue that’s been hounding the bill since its previous incarnation last year as SB 843: that there be no cost-shifting to utility customers not participating in the bill’s program.

The program allows for 500 MW of renewable energy projects that are ideal for utility customers who can’t put solar on their own roof. When they subscribe to energy produced by these shared renewable projects, customers get a credit on their power bill for that energy.

While this may sound great to customers, especially renters, utilities are sceptical. They want to ensure that the method used to calculate the bill credit be fair to all customers, including those who don’t sign up for shared renewables projects. Whether or not the utilities’ concern is disingenuous (remember the debate about net metering?), the bill’s sponsors have focused on addressing this point to ensure both fairness to all customers and passage of the bill. 

And pass it did last week, with a vote in the California Senate of 27 - 9. The bill’s current version includes carve-outs that have been key requests of environmental justice and community power organizations: at least 20% of the program is set aside to be built in environmental justice areas, and at least 20% is set aside to be available to residential customers.  

Less dramatic was the passage of AB 1014, which sailed through the Assembly with no debate and a vote of 55 - 17. Authored by Assemblyman Das Williams, this bill creates a voluntary program that allows utility customers to opt for 100% renewable energy, through their utility. As with SB 43, an important component of this bill was avoiding any cost-shifting to non-participants.

The bills have distinct approaches, but according to Tom Price, California Shared Renewables Policy and Market Strategies Director, “both solve the same problem -- letting people who can't buy renewable energy because they don't have a place to physically install it to instead virtually install it on their power bill.”

As currently written, each bill would generate about 500 MW of new clean energy, 6,500 jobs, $60M in new taxes, and $2B in economic activity -- all without a penny of state incentives.

At some point, SB 43 and AB 1014 are expected to be reconciled into one. No one knows yet how or when that will happen. Given that some still view SB 43 as pricing mechanism with cost shifts, there may be a convergence toward AB 1014’s PG&E-approved pricing structure. Wolk and Williams are working together to ensure the bills are supportive of each other. 

The bills are now set to go through the policy committee of the opposite chamber, and then that chamber’s appropriations committee, before moving on to the whole floor. They’re likely to reach the policy committees by early July.

For the moment, the bills are on pause. But it won’t be long before it’s once again time for action. Keeping both bills moving forward requires showing as much support as possible. To receive updates and find out how you can get involved, sign up at the California Shared Renewables site.

 

This piece initially appeared on PV Solar Report.