CA State Assembly Passes Bill to Create Nation’s Most Equitable Community Renewable Energy Program

May 26th, 2022

AB 2316 expands clean, renewable energy access for millions of Californians who rent or have low incomes and are not served by the state’s existing programs.

(Sacramento, CA) — California’s State Assembly passed AB 2316 by Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego), a bill establishing a new community renewable energy program to overcome clean energy access barriers impacting nearly half of Californians who rent or have low incomes — all while avoiding new ratepayer costs.

This priority bill for a diverse coalition of supporters — such as the California Environmental Justice Alliance, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resource Defense Council, Vote Solar, and The Utility Reform Network — now heads to the State Senate for further consideration.

“Low-income families and renters are often unable to access clean energy and utility bill savings because they don’t own their property or lack financing. For these millions of Californians, there are no viable programs available to help,” said Alexis Sutterman, Energy Equity Program Manager at the California Environmental Justice Alliance. “Community renewable energy is an opportunity to ensure working class communities of color can receive the health and economic benefits of clean energy in their neighborhoods while combating climate change. Pairing AB 2316 with a $1 billion state budget investment will ensure communities most harmed by pollution are positioned to lead this transition.”

Community renewable projects are smaller scale installations typically built on landfills, former industrial sites, or private parcels of land. Customers can sign up as subscribers, and in turn receive credits on their electricity bills based on their share of the project’s generation. It is a proven solution for enabling broader clean energy access among families and small businesses, regardless of whether they rent or own property.

“Today’s vote gives California’s fight against climate change an equity boost. We can’t win unless clean energy access is a right equally available to all Californians,” said Susannah Churchill, Western Regional Director at Vote Solar. “This bill provides a proven solution we can scale to finally enable millions of Californians to access clean energy. California has been the cradle of solar power but its policies have unfairly excluded half the state, making this bill a vital and overdue reform.”

AB 2316:

  • Avoids energy rate increases among nonparticipating customers by basing bill credits from community renewable projects solely on the benefits provided to the grid and ratepayers
  • Ensures at least 51% of subscribers are low-income customers or service organizations
  • Provides accountability for results and transparency through routine reports to lawmakers on program growth and low-income subscriber participation
  • Ensures strong prevailing wages for workers
  • Helps builders meet state building code requirements mandating solar systems for new construction
  • Requires the California Public Utilities Commission to evaluate existing programs based largely on their ability to meet the criteria described above, and to report to the Legislature its justification for terminating, modifying, or retaining them

“We thank lawmakers for today’s exciting vote to close the clean energy gap,” said Charlie Coggeshall, Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs at the Coalition for Community Solar Access, sponsor of the bill. “Community renewable programs are taking off in other states and it’s time for California to take a proven, cost-effective path to clean energy access and utility bill savings for all.”

In an op-ed urging passage of AB 2316, Matthew Freedman, Staff Attorney at The Utility Reform Network, and Michael Colvin, Director of the California Energy Program at Environmental Defense Fund, write: “The time has come to step up our commitment to clean energy and a decarbonized electricity system. AB 2316 offers a valuable tool to achieve these goals efficiently with the benefits focused on vulnerable customers and renters — two populations that have been left behind by current policies.”

Community solar is taking root in a third of states. Across the country community solar generates over 5 gigawatts of power, which is enough energy to power 3.75 million homes. In a few short years, New York State has built enough community solar capacity to power 200,000 homes. The Biden Administration wants community solar to reach 5 million households by 2025 and create $1 billion in energy bill savings.

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The Coalition for Community Solar Access is a national coalition of businesses and nonprofits working to expand customer choice and access to solar for all American households and businesses through community solar. Our mission is to empower every American energy consumer with the option to choose local, clean and affordable community solar. We work with customers, utilities, local stakeholders and policymakers to develop and implement policies and best practices that ensure community solar programs provide a win, win, win for all, starting with the customer. For more information, visit https://www.communitysolaraccess.org and follow the group on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.