California approves shared renewable energy program


California’s Legislature has given the green light for the state’s "Green Tariff Shared Renewables Program", which is the largest of its kind in the U.S. and will allow rental tenants, schools, cities and many other interested parties to invest in California’s renewable energy projects.

The program gives businesses and individuals the option to switch to a 100% "Green Rate" at the utility, which guarantees that their energy use is tied to a newly built renewable energy system that the utility procures for all green rate customers. The program is tied to the renewable developments of three investor-owned utilities – Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), San Diego Gas & Electric Co. (SDG&E), and Southern California Edison Co. (SCE) – in return for a greener electricity supply and, in the future at least, lower bills.

The bill, labelled S.B 43, was passed by the Assembly and the Senate and is now on its way to the governor.

"S.B. 43 will allow millions of Californians who cannot install their own solar unit, windmill or other renewable power generation system to obtain renewable energy through their utility," said Senator Lois Wolk, who drew up the bill’s details. "The bill will create thousands of jobs and encourage more investment in an important sector of California’s economy, while helping the state meet its renewable energy goals."

The ruling allows the investment of up to 600 MW in renewable energy, of which 100 MW must be made available to residential customers. It will be overseen by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), who will decide which clean energy projects qualify for the program and oversee how the cost benefits will trickle through to the customer.

"We think it’s a big deal and a game changer," said Susannah Churchill, California policy advocate at Vote Solar Initiative, a local advocacy group. "S.B. 43 is going to allow a lot of those folks access to renewable energy for the first time."

The group estimates that more than 20,000 residential ratepayers throughout California, each purchasing an average 5 KW share, will be able to participate in the program, as well as local schools, businesses, the military and the government.

The three utility providers involved in the program had originally opposed it, but following a raft of amendments, they all hopped aboard. "We removed our opposition to the bill because it directs the CPUC to approve a program that protects nonparticipating customers from cost shifts," said PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo. "In earlier versions of the bill, it failed to require participating customers to pay the administrative costs of the program, further shifting costs on to nonparticipating customers who don’t want or possibly cannot afford higher bills."

The amended version requires the utility companies to deal directly with the renewable energy developers, managing the rates on the behalf of customers. The bill also states that 100 MW of the proposed 600 MW will be built in disadvantaged communities.

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