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Equitable Community Solar: California & Beyond

Aug 21, 2020

Subin G. DeVar

Volume 46 (2019) - Issue 4

Residential solar and utility scale solar are low-hanging fruit in the renewables transition, but targeting low-hanging fruit can only go so far. Can states innovate, reach further, and ignite near-universal consumer demand for clean energy and achieve social justice goals through equitable community solar?

For the last decade, the goal of mitigating climate change primarily drove the transition to renewable energy in states and countries that took the climate change crisis seriously. But there is even greater promise. The shift to renewable energy holds the transformative potential for broader social benefits, such as wealth-building opportunities, good jobs, health improvements, energy bill savings, and resilience in the face of power outages. Manifesting this potential requires intentional policy. Unfortunately, even in California, a state determined to lead the transition to renewable energy, the implementation of climate action is poised for inequitable disparities. Although advocates saw community solar— cooperatively generating solar energy—as an avenue for all communities to benefit from the energy transition, the state poorly designed its first community solar policy, and the program has been a failure. California is now embarking on a significantly smaller second attempt at community solar targeted at serving disadvantaged communities: the Community Solar Green Tariff. But has the state learned from its first failure? This Article analyzes California’s new community solar program and proposes a framework for “equitable community solar” to improve program design, in hopes that other states learn from where the Golden State has stumbled.