Utilities Kill Community Solar Bill

Community solar in Minnesota | Photo: Clean Energy Resource Teams/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Senate Bill 843, which would have increased access to solar electricity for renters and others unable to install photovoltaic panels on their property, died in an Assembly committee late last week -- and its author blames two of California's largest utilities.

The bill died Friday in the Assembly's Committee on Utilities and Commerce after heavy lobbying by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison, who said the bill was too costly. San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) supported the measure.

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The bill's author cited heavy lobbying efforts by utilities aimed at members of the committee for the failure of the measure. "Unfortunately, PG&E and Southern California Edison control the committee," said the author State Senator Lois Wolk, in a statement. "There was an agreement between the Assembly Speaker, the Committee Chair, and me that would have scaled the bill down to a pilot program under the Public Utilities Commission's guidance and oversight. That agreement wasn't honored and the bill died in committee, depriving the public of innovative energy policy in line with Governor Brown's initiatives."

The bill would have allowed utility customers to buy some of their power from small- to medium-scale "solar gardens" -- solar photovoltaic installations built either by a third party or by groups of ratepayers -- and receive credits on their utility bills.

The utilities in opposition to the measure claimed that it would raise costs for non-participating customers. "Effectively, this bill would require PG&E to procure power at high renewable prices, but not allow PG&E to count the power toward California's 33 percent renewable goal," said PG&E spokesman Fong Lee Thursday in an Op-Ed in the Sacramento Bee.

Wolk has denied the assertion that the bill would have forced utilities to pass costs on to customers. Supporters are already redrafting the bill for introduction in the next session of the California Legislature, which convenes in January.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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Uh, PG+E, if you want to count rooftop solar towards the 33% RPS, why don't you support German style Feed in Tariffs so you are purchasing the electricity (often for lower prices than you are buying Big Wind, Big Gas and Big Solar for)? We can all have small, clean, reliable power plants on our rooftops (at no cost to you) and you can sit back and let us do the heavy lifting instead of trying to keep us enslaved to a 19th century Robber Baron energy model?

Distributed generation is inevitable, as is energy democracy. The longer you fight us, the more ways we will figure out how to cut you out entirely. Partner with us and you can be part of the future...