California is the nation’s leader in solar installations, among all major segments, residential, commercial and utility, but it will have to wait until at least 2013 until community solar gardens become a bigger part of its landscape. That’s because the state’s legislature recently voted down a bill, Senate Bill 843, that would have enabled such installations, which allow those who can’t install solar on their homes or businesses to buy a part of a larger solar installation and the generation their portion of it produces.
The bill was heavily opposed by utilities including Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE), according to the San Jose Mercury News. The newspaper said the utilities lobbied heavily to defeat the bill.
The California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA) didn’t take a position on the bill, said Executive Director Bryan Crabb, although the organization supports community solar. “The idea of community solar is awesome,” he said.
But the bill was in flux almost until it was voted on, according to Crabb. “The bill was undergoing a lot of changes and I don’t think the final changes went [in until slightly before the vote],” he said. However, “We were very much tracking it.”
The bill wasn’t clear in some key aspects. “It wasn’t clear whether the bill was going go to be added to existing programs or if it was going to be a new 2,000 megawatt program,” he said.
“We’re supportive of the concept and look forward to working it next year,” Crabb said. “We’re all for innovative ways of moving solar forward, so we’re looking to work on it next year.”
One of the issues that’s prevented community solar garden growth in California is that buying power through direct access is currently prohibited in the state, according to Crabb. “California has experimented with direct access before and it got suspended during the energy crisis and later, prohibited,” he said. He likened the fight to allow direct access energy purchasing to a legislative and regulatory battlefield.
Next year, when such legislation is introduced hopefully it will remedy the issues that weren’t clarified in the bill that recently failed.