Local Actions Can Help Spur Renewable Energy Growth in California CommunitiesSeptember 20, 2016
As renewable energy prices drop and consumer interest grows, many local governments are wondering what they can do to help their residents and businesses reap the benefits of clean energy. Erica McConnell provides an overview of some of the options that local governments have to improve access to renewable energy for their residents and bring its benefits to their communities.
Consumer interest in renewable energy—especially solar energy—continues to grow as costs drop. California leads the nation with over 13,000 megawatts (MW) of installed solar capacity, and this summer solar combined with other renewable energy met record high percentages of the state’s electricity needs, for example serving an impressive 56 percent of demand on one day in May. Looking at small-scale solar alone, California homes and businesses have over 500,000 on-site solar projects installed to date, representing over 4,000 MW of capacity.
By going solar, residents and businesses can save money on their electricity bills while greening their energy supply and promoting the environmental and public health benefits of cleaner sources of power. In facilitating adoption of renewable energy in their jurisdictions, local governments not only meet their constituents’ interest in cleaner, cheaper energy, but may also be able to obtain broader benefits, such as improved resiliency and creation of local jobs.
Federal and state policies are key drivers for solar and other renewable energy
The federal Investment Tax Credit, or ITC, has served as one of the most important policy mechanisms to promote renewable energy deployment in the United States. State policy plays a critical role, as well. In particular, California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard, or RPS, dictates the required portion of the state’s electricity supply that must come from renewable resources (currently 25 percent, and targeting 50 percent by 2030) and serves as a core component of the state’s renewable energy framework.
For individuals and businesses, state net energy metering policy remains essential to facilitating onsite solar and other renewable energy installations. Net energy metering allows utility customers to offset their electricity bills via credits commensurate with the electricity they generate. California has implemented a range of other renewable energy policies, including meter aggregation and virtual net energy metering, which allow multiple utility accounts or customers to share bill credits from a renewable energy installation. The state has also increasingly turned its attention to policies aimed at improving access to renewable energy for individuals living in disadvantaged communities, which have historically been most impacted by conventional generation, and where residents often face economic and other barriers to adopting renewable energy.
Local governments can improve access to clean energy for their residents
Although state policies play a critical role in promoting renewable energy, local governments have a number of tools at their disposal to ensure they and their residents can maximize the benefits of clean energy in their jurisdictions.
Serving as an information resource. Local government can serve as a trusted clearinghouse for information related to renewable energy, such as details about available programs, incentives, technologies, and financing options. For example, a local government could include links to renewable energy programs and information on cost savings related to utility net energy metering on its website.
Group purchasing and other programs. Beyond simply providing information, local governments can actively assist their residents and businesses in adopting renewable energy technologies by organizing group purchasing programs. These programs allow participants to come together to purchase renewable energy technologies, typically solar panels, in bulk and at a discount. The “Solarize” approach, pioneered by Portland, Oregon, is a popular group purchasing framework used across the country.
Local permitting and inspection processes. In 2014, AB 2188 required cities and counties to adopt expedited solar permitting processes. In addition to complying with the requirements in AB 2188, cities and counties can implement additional measures to streamline and otherwise improve their permitting and inspection processes for solar and other renewable energy installations. There are many helpful tools in the Solar Permitting Guidebook published by the Office of Planning and Research. Also, because utilities must evaluate a generation system before it goes into operation under their interconnection procedures, local governments can support local development of renewable energy by better understanding and coordinating with the utilities’ processes, and helping local contractors get projects approved as soon as possible.
Other local codes, ordinances, plans, and directives. In addition to streamlining their permitting and inspection processes, cities and counties can use other codes, ordinances, plans, and directives to encourage and manage renewable energy in their jurisdictions. For example, a local government could require that new residential construction be “solar ready,” or encourage larger, ground-mounted installations in particular zones, such as industrial areas within its jurisdiction, or damaged lands, such as brownfields or landfills. Local climate plans can also incorporate renewable energy goals and directives.
Community Choice Aggregation. In California, Community Choice Aggregators, or CCAs, consisting of cities and counties, can procure energy for participating customers, while still receiving the transmission and distribution services of the local utility.
Advancing clean technologies can benefit local governments and communities
In addition to helping their residents benefit individually from clean energy technologies, local governments may also seek to take advantage of renewable energy generation as energy users themselves, for example by entering into power purchase agreements to meet government needs. Promoting local renewable energy can result in broader benefits to the community. Implementation of renewable energy generation, especially when paired with energy storage or as part of a microgrid, can help improve reliability and resiliency within a local area. Increasing renewable energy installations in the region can also bring jobs and associated economic benefits. In its annual Solar Jobs Census, the Solar Foundation found that in the United States in 2015, the installation sector remained the single largest solar employment sector, having grown by almost 24 percent since November 2014 and 173 percent since 2010. Additionally, advancing renewable energy can help local governments meet their climate and environmental goals.
The approaches discussed above offer local governments some ideas about how to approach encouraging renewable energy in their jurisdictions. These ideas can be tailored to reflect local priorities and constraints. Moreover, they represent just a starting point for thinking about local strategies to promote and take advantage of clean energy and its benefits.
This article is intended for information purposes only and is not legal advice. This article is not intended to be a source of solicitation. This article is intended, but is not promised or guaranteed, to be correct, complete, and up-to-date. This article does not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of any legal matter. Readers should not act on the information provided in this article without seeking professional legal counsel.