One of the unique features of solar power is that it can be installed almost anywhere at almost any scale. And yet by some estimates 75% of homeowners and businesses are frustrated in their pursuit of solar power because they don't have the necessary space on their home or office to install it. This on-site requirement is the largest barrier for people who want to generate their own power, whether for cost savings today or protection from rising energy bills.
That restriction may go away if SB 843, the "Community-Scale Solar Bill" that recently passed the California Senate, can get through the Assembly and make its way to Governor Brown's desk. Authored by Senator Wolk of Davis, SB 843 would allow any customer of California's big IOUs to invest in offsite "community-scale" clean solar power and see the result directly on their energy bill. Schools, business, churches, renters — all would have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of solar power.
Here's how it would work. Under SB 843, utility customers could contract directly with the owner of a large solar power project to buy as much clean electricity as they need. The electricity generated by the solar power project would be delivered to the grid at no cost to the utility. The utility in turn would credit the customer's bill for the amount of electricity they purchased from the project owner.
The beauty of SB 843 is that it not only provides a clever solution to a market barrier but it introduces some important customer benefits as well. Because larger solar systems typically cost less to install than rooftop systems, electricity from community-scale solar will actually cost less than electricity from an onsite system. Plus community-scale customers will be able to choose from multiple suppliers, further ensuring they get a competitive rate.
For developers of large solar projects (like my company Recurrent Energy), SB 843 would open up new markets by enabling access to customers who have previously been difficult to serve. The bill anticipates creating up to 2 gigawatts of new demand for solar, providing a welcome complement to California's RPS program. For rooftop solar companies it provides an alternative product to offer when prospective customers don’t have the right real estate.
Bottom line, there are a lot of things to like about this approach to solar. It allows customers who otherwise have no option the freedom to go solar. It delivers solar to retail customers at competitive prices. It increases the demand for clean energy generation in California without any state subsidy. And it only requires those who benefit to pay; there's no cost-shift burden on non-participating utility customers.
I'm hopeful the leaders in the Assembly will get in gear and schedule the bill for a vote. With the governor's signature SB 843 can go from a great idea to another great California policy driving the future of solar power in our state.