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The equitable way to bring clean energy to all Californians

Opinion

Gary Skulnik is CEO and founder of Neighborhood Sun Benefit Corp.,a Certified B Corporation. Neighborhood Sun has headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, and said it developed community solar farms in Maryland, New Jersey, and D.C.

The proposed Net Metering 3.0 policy from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), touted as a way to improve equity in the state’s rooftop solar market, would do the exact opposite.

However, we might be missing the whole point.

Rooftop solar is a key part of our nation’s clean energy transition, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for everyone. It isn’t viable for 50%–75% of U.S. households because of barriers like cost, homeownership, location, and rooftop access.

If California’s goal is to increase access to clean energy for low- and moderate-income households, why aren’t we taking into account the other major obstacles they face aside from cost?

We should celebrate it as a major win that 1.2 million California households currently have rooftop solar systems — but what about the remaining 12 million households in the state?

Clean energy should be accessible to all — not just those who own their homes, have suitable rooftops, and can afford to wait 10 years or more to recoup the upfront costs.

Energy equity recognizes that minority, low-income, and indigenous populations frequently bear a disproportionate burden of the environmental harm and negative health outcomes caused by burning fossil fuels in power plants, while facing increased barriers to adopting clean energy. To put it in perspective, more Californian households currently rely on food stamps than on rooftop solar systems — so how do we expect the remaining majority of the state to transition to clean energy?

California saw 7% growth in the number of low- and moderate-income (LMI) households that installed rooftop solar systems from 2010 to 2019, but that will never extend to people who live in rental homes, apartments, or shaded areas. To meet California’s goal of 100% clean energy by 2045, we must first address the gaps in equity and accessibility.

Rooftop solar isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s time to expand all Californians’ access to the cost and health benefits of clean energy.

Michael Wara, Director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, suggests taking a proactive approach.

“California practically invented rooftop solar. Now is the opportunity for us to envision what comes next,” he says.

Rooftop solar requires commitment, maintenance, and upfront costs — you might say that sounds like a marriage. Community solar (a.k.a. shared solar or community shared solar), on the other hand, is more of a “friends with benefits” situation, allowing you to enjoy all the benefits of solar without any of the commitment or costs.

Community solar companies serve as intermediaries between customers who want access to solar and developers who need customers, mitigating the risk for both parties while bringing clean energy to communities. There are no costs, fees, or installations involved in subscribing as a customer, so you save money each month by sourcing clean energy from within your community. The only loser in this game is big oil and coal, and that’s exactly how it should be.

Community solar should be at the top of California’s energy agenda because it provides solar access to everyone, not just the select few. Promoting community solar will help California meet its climate goals, while bringing the state local economic activity — without straining the electric grid.

Community solar is currently available only in certain regions of the U.S, based on state policies, but that won’t be the case for long. To remain a solar leader, California must step up to the plate to ensure that solar energy is affordable and accessible to ALL Californians.

Opinion

Gary Skulnik is CEO and founder of Neighborhood Sun Benefit Corp.,a Certified B Corporation. Neighborhood Sun has headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, and said it developed community solar farms in Maryland, New Jersey, and D.C.

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