Sempra Foundation
Workers install solar panels on a rooftop. Photo Courtesy of Sempra

California is both the nation’s leading renewable-energy proponent and one of the few states to actually set ambitious green energy goals to fight climate change. Today, more than 20% of our energy generation comes from solar with California ranked as the highest solar power generating state in the nation.

Utility-scale and rooftop solar must continue to play an essential role in California’s renewable energy leadership. But a sizable portion of Californians are still unable to access the benefits of the technology.

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Many home and business owners are unable to install solar panels due to the cost or structural challenges, such as neighboring buildings or trees blocking the sun’s light. Roughly 45% of California households are renters who can’t install a solar system on their own.

So how do we expand solar technology to more people? The answer is a community solar storage program.

I introduced Assembly Bill 2316 to establish a statewide community and solar storage program that would allow people to sign up and receive a credit for their share of the power that is produced, just as if the panels were on their own roof. Community solar projects are smaller-scale installations that allow multiple customers to subscribe and save money on their monthly energy bill.

Californians who live in areas covered by privately-owned utilities like San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, or Pacific Gas & Electric would be eligible for the program. Customers can also choose to not enroll, of course, but people who do sign up would be compensated based on the value of the renewable energy resource. Financial incentives would also be available for low-income customers.

As an added benefit, our electric grid would be more reliable as a statewide community solar and storage program would ensure that clean energy is sent at peak hours when it is needed most. Because community solar projects are also built off site, utility companies can also strategically build them in areas of the grid that can benefit reliability the most. Adding solar power to the grid lessens the need for expensive power plants, which lowers energy market prices for all.

Finally, community solar projects are the rare developmental tool that both creates jobs and costs the state nothing to implement. Community solar projects are truly a win-win for everyone involved and would ultimately decrease our dependence on non-renewable energy sources in the future. Energy independence is a bipartisan issue that all politicians can get behind, and community solar projects will help drive equity, access and inclusion so everyone can benefit from solar power.

California law requires renewable and zero-carbon energy resources supply 100% of electric retail sales to customers by 2045. But we can’t achieve our clean energy goals while leaving half the state behind, including renters and homeowners who can’t install solar panels on their homes.

AB 2316 will ensure we expand solar technology to more people while continuing to move toward our 100% clean energy goal.

Assemblymember Chris Ward represents the 78th District, which includes Imperial Beach, Coronado, Del Mar, Solana Beach and much of the city of San Diego.