Dan Lieberman, NorCal Solar Board of Directors

Community solar gives electric customers the opportunity to buy a portion of the output from an off-site solar facility. The beauty of community solar lies in how it encourages large, low-cost, solar projects to be sited where utilities need them most, while giving access to the environmental and financial benefits of solar power to those who cannot put solar panels on their roofs. In several states, renters can now subscribe to a community solar facility and save money on their electric bill because solar is cheaper than utility power. Community solar was pioneered by Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s Solar Shares program, and is now being expanded to PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric.

Last Thursday, after years of rulemaking in the wake of SB43, the California Public Utilities Commission approved the final rules for community solar programs at California’s three largest utilities. One would expect screams of joy followed by a gaggle of renewable energy developers lining up to submit project applications. Given the high cost of electricity in California, abundant sunshine, a robust solar industry, historically low cost of solar panels, a 600 MW program launch, and provisions that allow solar developers to contract directly with customers, this seems like a huge win. It’s community solar party time in California, right? Unfortunately, the program rules are so cumbersome, it’s doubtful that any solar developers will be able to build projects under the program.