Clean-energy advocates advanced legislation Wednesday that aims to make it easier for Californians to use solar power despite concerns about the possible impact on customers who remain fully reliant on the electric grid.
The bill, authored jointly by state Sens. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber (Tehama County), is designed to enshrine in state law a right for homes, schools and businesses to take advantage of solar power without utilities putting up too many roadblocks.
Dubbed the “Solar Bill of Rights,” SB288 is also intended to help customers quickly connect renewable energy projects on their sites to the grid and avoid fees that the legislation’s major supporters call discriminatory.
The bill cleared the state Senate’s Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee on a unanimous vote, even as some lawmakers on the committee voiced sympathy with objections from the utility industry and ratepayer advocates.
“We are in a period of transition,” Wiener said at the hearing. “For people and homes and businesses and schools and affordable housing (projects) that want to do the right thing, we should not be putting barriers in their way.”
Numerous people from organizations that support solar power, along with farmers, homeowners and other individuals, spoke in favor of the bill.
Gary Thiara, a Colusa County walnut farmer, told the committee that he started a solar-plant project in spring 2016. It was supposed to be finished by the end of that year but is “still in limbo” and has yet to be powered up, Thiara said.
“Had we known this prior to initiating the project … how long it was gonna be and the interconnection challenges, we probably wouldn’t have done the project,” he said. “It’s very damaging to us and others like us.”
Representatives of all three of the state’s investor-owned utilities — Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric — and The Utility Reform Network consumer group were among those who spoke critically of the bill.
One of their concerns was about potential negative consequences for people who don’t use on-site solar power if the state is too financially friendly to customers’ clean-energy projects. TURN staff attorney Matthew Freedman said his group wants to make sure new legislation does not “carve up the customer base” so there are “only so many customers who remain to pay the bill.”
The critique resonated with multiple lawmakers on the committee, including chairman Sen. Ben Hueso, D-Logan Heights (San Diego County).
“If we are not gonna discriminate against one customer, we should not discriminate against any,” Hueso said.
But Dave Rosenfeld, executive director of the Solar Rights Alliance, cast the debate as a showdown between a “powerful, entrenched monopoly and ordinary people who want freedom from crushing and skyrocketing electricity costs.”
Ultimately, the bill had little problem moving forward, as Wiener said he had already agreed to several amendments and was open to continued conversations with legislative staff about the remaining concerns.