Solar power has entered the mainstream in California, regularly peaking at more than 2 gigawatts (GW) of electricity per day. In the second quarter of 2013, California added an additional 521 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity to the grid, a record for any state in a three-month period. An additional 1.1 GW of capacity is forecasted to be added the second half of the year.
While this is a success story of reaching the state 33 percent renewable mandate, the vast majority of Californians have not been able to directly participate. Right now, the only option a Californian has to switch to renewable energy is to install a solar power system on their property. But nearly 75 percent of California residents and businesses can’t, for reasons that range from structural limits to renters who don't control their roof.
The California State Legislature acted this week to resolve the problem. SB 43, the California Green Tariff Shared Renewables program, passed the legislature with bipartisan support. The program is simple, yet has the potential to be one of the most innovative renewable energy programs in the country. First and foremost, it will give all customers of Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison an option to purchase 100% renewable power, regardless of their ability to install a renewable energy system onsite.
Customers of these utilities will have the option to select a “green rate,” which will guarantee that their electricity use is tied directly to an economical, newly-built renewable energy source that is additional to the state’s 33 percent renewable portfolio standard. Going further, the program does not cost nonparticipating ratepayers or taxpayers a dime. And best of all, the green rate allows subscribers to lock in their energy costs for years, hedging against rate increases.
Many states around the country are implementing smaller shared renewable pilots, but once again, California is leading the way. California’s shared renewable program will be the largest in the country, allowing up to 600 MW of new renewable capacity initially. The bill also sets aside 100 MW of the program for smaller projects built in disadvantaged areas to encourage job creation and another 20% of the program is guaranteed to go to residential subscribers.
California’s Green Tariff Shared Renewables program also stands out among others with its ability for organizations to craft energy solutions that meet their unique needs. It will allow groups like renters, churches, schools or businesses to build a specific, unique energy project tailored for their community.
A recently study by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council revealed that a shared renewable program is more successful when it offers a sense of connection and choice over the project. The Solar Electric Power Association found the same, that green tariffs alone tend to get low participation without a shared or community project element to the program.
The details of this portion of California’s program will be further defined by regulators over the next year, and I encourage them to adopt a program that will allow suppliers and customers to come together and design a system that meets the community’s needs.
Recurrent Energy signed on as a supporter of the shared renewables program early on and took an active role in encouraging its passage. A broad coalition was formed to help pass the bill, including utilities, municipalities, energy developers, environmental groups, churches, schools and commercial property owners.
It is rare to see these disparate groups lining up behind one initiative, but it is a testament to how well the bill was crafted and shepherded through the legislature, not only by the sponsor, Senator Wolk, but by Assembly Utilities and Commerce Commission Chairman Bradford and the sponsor of the Assembly companion legislation, Assemblymember Williams. Now, all that is needed is for Governor Brown to sign the bill into law.
The Green Tariff Shared Renewable program is a win across the board for everyone looking to continue encouraging the adoption of renewables in California. As the recent expansion of solar in the state shows, renewable energy is beyond ready for the prime time, it is already the star player. We need market innovation to give more people access to this technology and we need to empower people with the choice to take action. The California State Legislature should be commended for their continued effort to innovate and find cost-effective ways to support further growth of clean, affordable electricity.
All that's left is for Governor Brown to sign the bill into law...