Harnessing Community Power: Challenging the California Public Utilities Commission’s Stance on Solar Energy

Hello everyone,

I’m ranting here today about a rather frustrating proposed decision that could jeopardize the future of the community solar market. Earlier this month, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) found that the Net Value Billing Tariff (part of the Community Renewable Energy Act) conflicts with federal law. As a solar expert, I figured I might provide some insight and action steps on how we can better understand and address this decision.

Community solar is a game-changing innovation that lets small businesses and residents, even renters or those unable to install solar panels for their homes, tap into off-site solar arrays. The principle is that you subscribe to a portion of a solar facility not located on your property and get a utility bill credit for the power it produces. This concept was supported by the Community Renewable Energy Act (AB 2316), opposed by investor-owned utilities serving a significant chunk of the state’s electricity usage.

However, the CPUC has now raised questions about the legality of the Net Value Billing Tariff within this law, and the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA) has responded vehemently. The CCSA has argued that the proposed decision shows a “myopic view of the breadth of the Commission’s authority,” and won’t bring us any step closer to creating community solar projects as the legislature had intended.

It’s worth noting how much we stand to lose if community solar doesn’t grow as projected. People who can’t access traditional solar options like solar panels on their home could save at least $300 per year, adding up to roughly $9 billion statewide. This isn’t just about energy—it’s about community and affordability. Furthermore, Derek Chernow of the CCSA has pointed out that continuing with costlier existing programs will drastically limit the number of projects built and the number of low-income customers served.

The argument doesn’t end there: Chernow and the CCSA have pointed out that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) actually doesn’t have jurisdiction over community solar. Attorney Norman Bay, former chair of FERC, has added his voice to say, “States have exclusive jurisdiction over retail rates, and community solar quintessentially involves state retail rate design and state energy policy [rather than federal law].”

This ruling is coming as the Department of Energy (DOE) is pledging its support to community solar via the National Community Solar Partnership (NCSP). The NCSP challenges the community solar industry to meet a target of 20 gigawatts of community solar by 2025—a part of the larger goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035.

But my main worry is about California’s future in community solar. The CCSA has argued that, if the CPUC’s ruling goes ahead as is, the state’s new capacity would only reach an estimated 155 MW of the national five-year outlook. However, if the more cost-effective and scalable NVBT proposal is adopted, California could potentially contribute up to 19% of the nation’s installed community solar.

As we wait for CPUC’s final decision, it’s time we come together for a more equitable energy future—the very purpose solar companies were built on. If chain actions are not set in motion, we risk stagnation in a sector that promises greener, more affordable power to communities. I for one, join the CCSA in urging the Commission to reject or significantly modify the proposed decision and harness the immense potential of community solar.

We’re far from being out of options or initiatives. There’s still time for us to come together and come up with ways to integrate solar arrays for home and community use, thereby fostering a more equitable energy future.

Stay tuned for more updates on this topic. Let’s use the power of community to bring about a bright solar future for all.

Signing off for now,
[Your Name]

Original Articlehttps://pv-magazine-usa.com/2024/03/26/community-solar-group-challenges-assertions-by-cpuc/

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