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California's Community Solar Market: CPUC Leans Towards Utilities


California's push for community solar hit a roadblock as the CPUC rejected a proposal favoring local utilities over solar advocacy groups. This decision shifts more power to utilities, leaving solar progress in the shadows.


Stephanie Doyle, California State Affairs Director at SEIA, expressed concern, calling it a misstep hindering clean energy growth. She emphasized that the state's legislature, through AB 2316, aimed for a strong program benefiting low-income residents and boosting grid resilience. Doyle warned that opting for a utility-backed alternative might jeopardize federal funding and hinder the commercial viability of community solar. The CPUC's choices, she noted, seem to impede rather than promote California's solar journey.


In September 2022, AB 2316 became law, mandating large utilities with over 100,000 customers to establish programs facilitating direct participation in offsite renewable energy projects, like community solar. The Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA) pitched a Net Value Billing Tariff (NVBT) to compensate community solar subscribers based on project generation value. However, CPUC ruled that the NVBT "conflicts with federal law" and falls short of AB 2316 requirements.


CPUC's alternative proposal puts PG&E and SCE in charge of determining the cost cap for "disadvantaged communities" in community solar. This shift has the solar industry concerned, fearing it could stifle the growth of community solar as a viable market for both developers and subscribers.


Today, the CPUC had a golden chance to propel California as a national community solar leader. Regrettably, the proposed decision falls short, making it tough to guarantee fair access to renewable energy with storage for low-income communities and environmental justice. The scaling of community solar capacity is crucial to reaching as many low-income customers as possible, emphasized Derek Chernow, Western Regional Director for CCSA.

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