California Energy Commission Defers Decision on SMUD Community Solar Proposal

The California Energy Commission held a hearing on Wednesday, November 13, to discuss the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD)’s SolarShares proposal. The SolarShares program could be used by California builders and developers as a compliance alternative to the onsite PV required by the new Title 24 mandate of solar on all new homes starting in 2020. SMUD’s proposal would have allowed home builders to forgo installing rooftop solar by counting panels on solar farms, some of which were built five to 10 years ago, according to the California Solar & Storage Association (CALSSA). Solar advocates opposed the proposal, saying it would undermine the mandate and take away from the goal of installing localized solar.

The Commissioners voiced many concerns and agreed to postpone the decision to better define “community solar,” according to LA Times energy reporter Sammy Roth. The solar industry was happy with the decision.

“We applaud the Commissioners for preserving the integrity of the new home solar mandate and listening to the public, environmentalists and clean energy business leaders. We look forward to working with the Commission on building smart, local energy that benefits consumers and builds resilient communities,” said Benjamin Davis, policy associate for CALSSA.

“The solar industry is a valuable asset for California, and the right solutions will help ensure that all new homes enjoy the full economic, health and resilience benefits solar provides,” said Ed Smeloff, Senior Director of Grid Integration at Vote Solar and former SMUD Board member. “Californians want more solar to power new homes. Now, the Commission can consider new proposals that deliver on the will of the legislature, and the people.”

“We applaud the California Energy Commission for listening to the concerns of community members and environmental advocates and tabling SMUD’s proposal,” said Anne Hoskins, Sunrun’s chief policy officer. “We are optimistic that the Commission will preserve the integrity of the new homes solar standards and ensure Californians have access to reliable and clean electricity through their rooftops and energy storage for greater reliability.”

“We commend the California Energy Commission for seeing SMUD’s application for what it is — a direct attempt to water down California’s building standard,” said Sean Gallagher, VP of state affairs at SEIA. “SMUD’s application was not consistent with industry standards for community solar and opened the door for further deviations. Going forward, the California Energy Commission should better define community solar guidelines so that consumers can continue to benefit from local and on-site solar plus storage solutions.”

“It is very promising for the future of the California Solar Mandate that the CEC decided to pause and look more closely at the details and defects of SMUD’s ill-considered proposal,” said Donald E. Osborn, president of Spectrum Energy Development Inc and the former head of SMUD’s Solar Programs. “SMUD needs to work with stakeholders to craft a proposal that advances the goals of the Solar Mandate not undermine it and to get the full range of benefits to homebuyers and apartment renters alike. We look to the CEC to help get the needed changes made to make this proposal conform with the goals of the State’s Energy Future before it gets reconsidered.”

SMUD CEO and general manager Arlen Orchard released the following statement in response to the deferral:

“We are extremely disappointed that the CEC deferred action on our Neighborhood SolarShares program. As confirmed by CEC staff, our program proposal met all the requirements of the 2019 Building Standards and provides an important compliance option for builders. Our goal has always been to increase renewable energy sources such as solar, and our program provided flexibility to builders to increase solar use in our communities. The state of California and the Sacramento region are facing an affordable housing crisis and our low-cost solar option provides a valuable tool to lower the construction costs of new homes while supporting carbon reduction goals.

“While we are disappointed, we are committed to this program and will continue to work with CEC to refine the definition of ‘community’ to ensure that the benefits of solar energy can be fully realized while continuing to support affordable housing in the Sacramento region. To date, 87% of our solar resources for this program are within our service territory and our community.

“We are committed to solar energy and have aggressive carbon reduction goals. In order to meet those goals, we must utilize all available options. This program is just one complementary option to rooftop solar.”

Although SMUD maintains that its SolarShares program is good for the community and builders, it requires homeowners to sign up for 20-year community solar terms and says their net benefit will only be about $20 a year.


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