Utility Companies Block Renters from “Virtual” Solar Power

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Not everyone who pays an electric bill has an opportunity to go green and use an alternative energy source. An estimated 44% of Californians are renters and they don’t own a roof for installing a solar photovoltaic system.

State Senator Lois Wolk, who puts the number of households locked out of renewable energy at 75%, introduced a bill that would have created what some call a virtual solar power source by enabling residents to collectively buy power from shared renewable sources—wind, solar, geothermal, small hydro, biomass—but it died in committee on the Legislature’s last day in session after opposition from utility companies.

“Unfortunately, PG&E and Southern California Edison control the committee,” Senator Wolk wrote in a prepared statement after the bill’s death.

Senate Bill 843 would have let customers buy up to 100% renewable power from a shared facility, often called a “solar garden,” in their utility’s territory. In exchange, the user would receive a credit on their bill offsetting a portion or all of their energy usage costs.

The bill would have given “consumers the opportunity to save on their energy bill while encouraging more investment and creating thousands of jobs in an important sector of our state’s economy, all without spending any state funds or shifting costs to consumers who chose not to participate,” Wolk wrote.

Utility companies argued that the legislation would shift $4 billion in costs from its customers who participated in renewable energy program to those who didn’t.

Fong Wan, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) senior vice president for energy procurement, wrote in a Sacramento Bee op-ed that SB 843 would force his company to effectively buy power at higher renewable prices although those purchases wouldn’t count toward the state’s mandated 33% energy goals. Renewable energy users would also get a break on paying for system maintenance, Wan wrote.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:    

California Community Solar Bill Dies in Assembly Committee (Clean Technica)

PG&E, So. Cal Edison Kill Bill to Increase Consumer Access to Renewable Energy (by Senator Lois Wolk)

Another View: Solar Bill Would Shift Costs to PG&E Customers (by PG&E executive Fong Wan, Sacramento Bee op-ed)

Assembly Vote Coming on Solar Garden Bill (by Chris Clarke, KCET)

Community Solar Gardens (Local Clean Energy Alliance) (pdf)

Wolk Gives Power to Residents Who Want Clean Energy with SB 843 (by Tom Sakash, The Davis Enterprise)

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