California State Capitol” by jimmywayne is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

In a signal of growing support for the goal of improving access to community solar, California lawmakers on Wednesday advanced a bill to create one of the most equitable and innovative community renewable programs in the nation. 

The legislation approved by California’s State Assembly Committee on Utilities and Energy, AB-2316, would expand access to renewable energy for millions of Californians through a new state program that prioritizes benefits for low-income residents and saves them money on their utility bills. It would also create a community renewable solar program with one of the nation’s most progressive storage requirements — a move that will make the grid more reliable and resilient to blackouts while avoiding ratepayer costs.  

Next, the bill must be voted out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, then pass the Democrat-controlled House and Senate before going to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for signature. 

The bill calls for at least 51 percent of the power generated by each community solar project to benefit low-income customers or service organizations. The new program targets renters and other customers who were previously unable to install solar systems by providing them with ways to directly benefit from that solar energy. It also would provide builders with new ways to meet the state’s ambitious energy code requirements. 

Environmental advocates hailed the news, with industry leaders calling it an opportunity for working class communities to benefit from clean energy in their neighborhoods. Due to upfront costs and not owning their homes, low-income Californians and renters may not always have access to the benefits of renewable energy and reduced utility bills. 

“By passing this legislation out of committee, California lawmakers have shown that they are serious about improving access to community solar for millions of state residents,” said Charlie Coggeshall, Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs at the Coalition for Community Solar Access, a proponent of the bill. “Community solar is a proven, practical solution for many, and this gives California a chance to widen access to that renewable energy and address a longtime energy equity gap. Equally important, it will help customers save money on their energy bills while supporting the development of cost-effective community solar plus storage systems in their state.” 

Supported by a diverse coalition of organizations including the California Environmental Justice Alliance, the Coalition of California Utility Workers and The Utility Reform Network (TURN), the bill includes significant energy storage requirements on community solar, which would bolster solar power reliability and reduce costs by providing clean energy to the grid when it’s most needed. 

Californians who live in areas covered by privately-owned utilities like San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison or Pacific Gas & Electric are eligible to join the program. Ratepayers can choose to subscribe or decline to enroll, and financial incentives will be available for low-income customers. Subscribers will be compensated based on the value of the renewable energy resource. The bill also provides accountability for results and transparency through mandated reports to lawmakers on program growth and low-income subscriber participation.  

The legislation also calls for prevailing wages for workers and offers support for builders to help them meet state building code requirements mandating solar panels and battery storage in new office buildings and multi-family housing.