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California legislator pushes for Solar Bill of Rights

Francisco CastroApril 2, 20192130

Summary

A Democratic and a Republican state Senator have joined forces behind a bill that would give Californians the right to generate, store and use renewable energy on their property without interference from utility companies; interconnect their solar power and storage to the grid quickly, without utility red tape and be free from discriminatory fees and charges associated with installing solar or storage technologies.

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You probably know the country’s Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantee freedom of speech, religion, the right to bear arms and protection from improper searches.

And just like the patriots who fought against the British to gain Independence, owners of home solar powered systems are also banding together to advocate for their rights.

They are called the Solar Rights Alliance (SRA), a nonprofit group established in 2018 to represent “the nearly 1 million Californians who have invested in solar energy.” 

They are solar panel owners and solar-interested parties in California who operate under the belief that “the right to make and store (their) own energy from the sun without interference, discrimination or red tape from the utilities or the government.”

They say that “across California, lobbyists for the utility industry are working to make it harder and more expensive for Californians to choose solar energy. In recent years they tried to kill net metering, hit solar owners with new fees and grab control of the next generation of solar technology”.

The California Solar Bill of Rights

The SRA is behind the push for the California Solar Bill of Rights, a law proposed by state Senators Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Jim Nielsen (R-Red Bluff) which seeks to “enable more consumers to install and maintain renewable energy technologies by addressing some of the main barriers consumers currently face”

These challenges include outdated tariffs that make it financially unattractive to install renewable energy technologies, including solar, and unreasonable barriers to connecting to the grid.

Although known as the Solar Bill of Rights, SB 288 is technology neutral and applies to all renewable sources of energy and energy storage.

In announcing the measure, the legislators noted that “many consumers who install on-site energy storage systems and are connected to the electric grid may at times receive no compensation at all for the additional electricity they are storing and putting back into the grid during the times of day when it is most needed. Instead, these same consumers could later be charged for electricity that they themselves discharged onto the electric grid.” 

SB 288 requires the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Independent System Operator, and the board of publicly owned utilities around the state to update relevant tariffs to ensure fair compensation of these distributed energy resources (DERs).

“To fight climate change, California is moving aggressively to 100% renewable energy,” said Senator Wiener. “This legislation is about ensuring that we all have access to the benefits of solar and other sources of renewable energy. When our public agencies put up barriers to make it harder and less attractive to install renewable energy, we’re all worse for it.”

“With solar energy being mandated for new homes, it is important for individual homeowners to have fair compensation for energy produced on their properties,” said Senator Nielsen.

The Solar Bill of Rights promotes energy independence by recognizing that all Californians have a right to:

●      Generate, store and use renewable energy on their property without interference from utility companies.

●      Interconnect their solar power and storage to the grid quickly, without utility red tape.

●      Be free from discriminatory fees and charges associated with installing solar or storage technologies.

Owners who have installed solar powered systems in their homes praise the measure.

“Reliable and affordable electricity is critical to my business,” said Bill Carriere. “By investing in solar on my farm, I can save money and feel confident that I will have reliable, affordable power.  Electric utilities feel threatened by my right to produce my own power for my business, and we need the legislature to step in and make sure those rights can’t be taken away.”

"No one owns the sun,” said Madera homeowner Ramon Torres. “We all know the benefits of going solar but the right to tap into those benefits is not protected. The law should protect  my rights and the rights of my neighbors to go solar.”

The Solar Bill of Rights will also make it easier for storage customers to provide grid services with their battery, helping to create a more reliable electric grid and receive a fair credit in return.

"Every Californian has the right to make their own energy from the sun without the utility getting in the way, especially in these uncertain times," said Solar Rights Alliance Director Dave Rosenfeld.

If the California measure is approved, it could serve as a model for other states, or even be included in a nationwide clean-energy bill in the coming years.

The bill has the backing of Vote Solar and the California Solar and Storage Alliance (CALSSA), as the main advocacy groups for distributed solar in California. Another co-author is state Senator Jeff Stone (R-Riverside County), as well as four assembly members.

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