Exciting times for shared solar at the California PUC

California is moving closer and closer to a clean energy program that will give renters and others a chance to go solar for the first time. Last year, state lawmakers passed SB 43, which requires California’s three big investor-owned utilities – PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E – to develop new shared renewables programs totaling up to 600 megawatts (MW). These programs generally allow energy customers to subscribe to an off-site renewable energy project located somewhere else in their community and get utility bill credit for their portion of the energy produced. Now the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has until Summer 2014 to determine the details of how these programs are designed for California.

Late last week, the PUC wrapped up an eventful hearing on program design with Vote Solar, the utilities and many others offering different perspectives on the key elements that should be included in these new Green Tariff Shared Renewables (GTSR) programs. Judge Richard Clark made waves on Day 2 of the hearings by requiring PG&E to allow more choice and flexibility for those who subscribe to PG&E’s GTSR program.

As we have argued since the beginning, the GTSR programs are likely to have greater success if they offer customers the chance to subscribe to a particular clean energy project with characteristics they like — say, a solar project that a family can see on their morning drive to the local elementary school — in addition to the option to subscribe to generic renewable energy from the full list of projects that the utility contracts with under the program. SDG&E has proposed that half their GTSR program do just that, but PG&E had promised only to “consider” the idea after its program launched. In response to a motion from the City of Davis, Judge Clark said that he was deeply concerned that PG&E hadn’t yet proposed the second half of their program, and required the utility to put forward a proposal for parties’ review by February 21. That’s a real victory for consumer choice! We look forward to reviewing to PG&E’s proposal and working with the utility and other stakeholders to craft shared renewables programs that work for everyone.

As the Commission moves forward with reviewing the IOUs’ proposed programs, other important issues remain. For example, we must make sure subscribers will receive bill credits that properly reflect the long-term value to the utility of the clean energy they purchase. In addition, the utilities need to have a solid plan for how they will ensure smaller clean energy projects (1 MW and less) can be built in disadvantaged communities, as required by SB 43. We’ll continue to work through the PUC process to ensure that these first-in-kind shared renewables programs achieve their goal of helping more Californians participate directly in our growing solar marketplace.

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