California Community Solar Battle: Everyone Stands Against Utilities

California Community Solar Battle: Everyone Stands Against Utilities

In a landmark move that harbors hope for a cleaner and more sustainable California, a diverse coalition has united behind a pivotal proposal aimed at fostering the growth of community solar initiatives across the state. United in their vision, they face formidable opposition from utility giants keen on retaining their monopoly.

The proposal introduces a new payment framework termed the Net Value Billing Tariff (NVBT), which holds the transformative power to revitalize the stagnating community solar market in California, making it a lucrative and efficient alternative. Envisioned to be a linchpin for community solar payments, NVBT stems from mandates outlined in the AB 2316 law, ratified last year. The coalition believes it is high time regulators moved the needle towards environmental equity, grid reliability, and affordable housing by not letting substantial utilities eclipse the growth of community solar and storage.

As the decisive date of September 26 approaches, when the state must stake its claim on a significant portion of the $7 billion designated for federal community solar grants, the unified front presses on the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to endorse the NVBT program. The overarching goal is to shield it from being undermined by Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison, the utilities rallying against it.

In the words of Brandon Smithwood, the Senior Director of Policy at Dimension Renewable Energy, the current scenario is tantamount to “everyone versus the utilities,” epitomizing a rare unity in California’s usually fragmented solar policy sector. Traditionally embroiled in disputes over rooftop solar systems’ valuation, environmentalists and consumer advocates find common ground on this pressing matter, putting aside differences to champion a shared objective.

This consensus could potentially usher in a golden era for community solar in California, with Derek Chernow of the Coalition for Community Solar Access anticipating a leadership position for the state in the sector, nationally, within a few years if the CPUC affirms the NVBT.

Further bolstering this outlook is the Coalition for Community Solar Access’s analytical forecast, projecting that the tariff might facilitate the creation of approximately 8 gigawatts of community solar initiatives paired with battery storage, utilizing the existing grid infrastructure. This would position California as a forerunner in the community solar sector, aligning it with other frontrunner states such as Colorado and Massachusetts.

While the goal remains significantly lesser than the 13 gigawatts of rooftop solar currently installed across California, it is nonetheless a monumental leap from the mere 600 megawatts of community solar presently developed under various existing programs.

The envisioned expansion promises to democratize access to cheaper and cleaner energy solutions. It seeks to transcend barriers, enabling lower-income families and nearly 17 million renters in the state, previously unable to leverage solar energy for reducing utility expenses, to tap into the community solar reservoir. The initiative plans to foster a system where a considerable consumer base can subscribe to a fraction of a project’s energy production, utilizing the ensuing revenues to earn credits that counterbalance their utility expenses, hence paving the way for a greener, more inclusive future for California.

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