With community solar we can all be part of the clean energy solution

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Michael Kadish, the Executive Director of GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles, making clean energy technology and job training accessible to low-income communities and communities of color, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

Los Angeles County is home to infamously bad traffic and seemingly intractable air pollution. We’ve got America’s biggest ports along with 88 different municipalities, one huge investor-owned utility, municipal utilities, and now the Clean Power Alliance—California’s largest Community Choice Aggregation. We’ve got some of the richest and most star-filled ZIP codes in the country alongside half of California’s most environmentally disadvantaged communities. We deal with historic wildfires and droughts so we know firsthand that climate change has arrived and threatens our homes and families. We’re also working hard to be part of the solution, installing solar on more homes in Los Angeles than any other city in the country while recently shutting down three gas plants along our urban coast.

With all this happening here, it seems obvious that tackling climate change is a large-scale problem requiring a large-scale, inclusive effort. To do that, it’s important for both the economic benefits of climate solutions, as well as the environmental benefits, to reach everyone. Community solar, a model that allows subscribers to access solar power from offsite generation and get credit on their utility bills or even receive direct payments, can help achieve that goal.

That’s why this month in Long Beach we brought together clean energy advocates, policymakers, and utility experts for a Los Angeles Energy and Equity Policy Series (LEEPS) event on community solar. Community solar can fill a big gap in our policies. Although California leads the nation in renewable energy generation, over half of our residents don’t have access to clean, affordable solar power because they don’t own their homes or buildings, with most of those families being low-to-moderate-income renters.

California knows how to do smart targeted solar programs. Since passing the California Solar Initiative in 2006, our state has made progress in bringing the benefits of solar to lower-income utility customers through the SASH, MASH, and soon SOMAH programs, that each provide incentives for low-income homeowners and multifamily affordable housing providers to go solar. However, these programs are limited to either rooftop solar for single-family owner-occupied households or tenant-metered affordable housing. This has real limits when only a minority of tenants are fortunate enough to live in affordable housing, and most low-income households do not own their homes.

How do we expand solar access and democratize our power generation, so we can all be part of climate solutions? Research shows community solar could serve nearly a million California customers by 2030, including over 500,000 low- and moderate-income households, while also holding the potential to build savings and wealth for communities and families that need it the most. A truly community-centric model would mean renters and homeowners alike can access solar’s significant energy bill savings, building wealth for their families for decades to come and having real control, if not outright ownership, of the solar project itself.

The good news is that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), Southern California Edison (SCE), and LADWP are working on programs to expand access through community or “shared solar,” and in the cases of the CPUC and SCE programs, provide a modest bill savings benefit to lower-income families in disadvantaged communities. In addition, the state’s Community Services & Development agency has funded two pilot community solar projects elsewhere in California that focus on lower income families. These are solid first steps, but it is going to take bolder, broader community solar programs to provide widespread solar access and significant savings to everyone in LA, regardless of where they live.

Owning a solar electric system means having the ability to harvest free energy from the sun. Ultimately, those are the wealth-building savings we want to see renters enjoy with community solar. As we fight climate change and work for a just transition to clean energy, let’s ensure that much of clean energy’s benefits flow to those in our society who have suffered the largest impacts from fossil fuel pollution.

At our recent LEEPS event, CPUC Commissioner Guzman Aceves said in her keynote that, “Fortunately, you have a lot of great leadership here in SoCal. I think there are huge opportunities for innovation and I want to see it developed in low-income communities.” Let’s take up this challenge and create a program that promotes equity along with access. As we move toward 100 percent renewables, we should aim for community solar here in Los Angeles that lives up to its name.

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