Building Coalitions to Change Laws
Energy laws and regulations are relics of an era when we depended on dirty coal power plants and don't reflect the fact that electricity can now be produced cleanly and locally. It's urgent that we update laws for the 21st Century, so we are building strategic partnership to eliminate barriers to community energy in our laws and policies.
While interest in shared renewables and community ownership increases, in most states there is no viable financial driver for community energy as compared to utility bill net metering credits and federal tax credits for single-family home rooftop solar. In general, very few public policies, funding, or procurement programs prioritize community energy, so there is a lot of work to be done to change this.
We are building collaborative relationships with a wide range of the stakeholders involved and interested in community energy, including community-based organizations, developers, legal and other technical experts, financial experts, cooperatives, divestment groups, reinvestment groups, and more. We are learning from and coordinating with these groups to advance policy advocacy projects, including:
● Virtual Net Metering: In 2017, we drafted a proposal for an "Equity Virtual Net Metering" policy for pollution-burdened communities, also called Environmental Justice communities or disadvantaged communities. We co-introduced the proposal with the California Environmental Justice Alliance in a proceeding at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), following coordination and collaboration with a working group of various parties in the proceeding.
Virtual Net Metering is one of the most successful regulatory program designs in other states for enabling community solar projects through credits that offset a consumer's energy bill at a one-for-one rate. We proposed Equity Virtual Net Metering (“Equity VNM”) as one of various alternatives for disadvantaged communities that the CPUC is implementing under state law AB 327. If adopted, Equity VNM will enable development of community-based energy projects that are small, close to customers, and community owned or controlled.
● Community Choice Aggregation (CCAs): We are a member of the East Bay Clean Power Alliance, which is organized to promote a Community Choice energy program in Alameda County with a commitment to maximizing community benefits and community input. Our support has included providing input on creating a local development business plan for the Alameda County CCA -- called East Bay Community Energy -- that would include the development of metrics to prioritize local benefits. In California, three new CCA entities are launching in 2017 and over 15 municipalities are exploring their own programs.
We are also a former member of, and current advisor to, the East Bay Shared Solar Collaborative, which is promoting the development of community-owned and controlled shared solar energy projects within East Bay Community Energy to further community economic empowerment, advance social equity, and strengthen community resilience. We believe CCAs offer an important opportunity to drive procurement of renewables from community-owned projects.
● Green Tariff/Shared Renewables Program: We advocated for improved rules at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in the SB 43 Green Tariff/Shared Renewables Program. The Enhanced Community Renewables component of the SB 43 program allows organizations and individuals to participate in offsite electrical generation -- solar panels (or other renewables) located somewhere other than on their own building or land -- within the service territories of California’s three largest investor-owned utilities: Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison.
● Securities: In 2015, we successfully wrote and passed a crowd-financing law (AB 816) enabling California cooperatives to sell shares for up to $1,000 without intermediaries or legal compliance hurdles. Twice – in 2015 and 2016 – we introduced and advocated for passage of the Local Economies Securities Act, though it was unsuccessful. We will continue to keep tabs on any securities bills in California and give input to ensure that regulations are crafted to benefit small-scale and cooperative enterprises.