Vote Looms On Low-Income Solar Bill

Urban rooftop solar in San Francisco | Photo: Matt Montagne/Flickr/Creative Commons License

As the California Senate prepares to vote today or tomorrow on a bill that would expand access to rooftop solar in California's poorest communities, opponents and supporters have mobilized their respective lobbying troops to stalk the Capitol's halls and twist legislators' arms.

"The utilities have their lobbyists out in force today in Sacramento," the Sierra Club California's Jim Metropulos told ReWire today, "and so do we."

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At issue is AB 1990, dubbed the "Solar For All" bill by its supporters, which would mandate that the state's utilities buy 190 megawatts of power from small community renewable energy facilities, paying the energy producers a favorable rate for the power they generate, in an arrangement known as a feed-in-tariff. Power generation facilities must be 500 kilowatts or smaller to qualify for the program -- that's less than an acre of photovoltaic panels -- and sited in what the bill's language terms the state's "most impacted and disadvantaged communities."

The bill has a long list of supporters across the state including economic justice and minority-rights groups, conservation organizations, labor groups, and solar companies. It is opposed by the state's largest utilities, the California Chamber of Commerce, and other business interests. It's not surprising for utilities to oppose feed-in-tariff laws, says Metropulos, and the business groups have signed on to oppose AB 1990 in support of the utilities, which are powerful members of the Chamber of Commerce.

"It is truly outrageous that these utilities would oppose making solar energy accessible to California's low-income communities at a time when these communities have higher unemployment rates and less access to clean energy for their homes compared to average and affluent neighborhoods," said Metropulos. "AB 1990 would help bridge the 'Green Divide' by creating a program to get more solar on rooftops in California and source local jobs to install solar energy in Latino, African-American, Asian, and other low- income communities."

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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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