California Expands Access to Community Solar with New Rule

Rooftop solar can provide economical and reliable clean electricity.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Thursday approved a rule to expand “community solar,” which could boost solar access and help lower utility bills for renters and people who can’t put solar panels on their own rooftops.

Projects under this new rule benefit in part from Inflation Reduction Act Community solar policy that provides funding to create access to the benefits of solar power generation for homeowners, renters, and businesses regardless of ownership of their home or business, or whether their property is physically suitable to install solar. Instead, local solar facilities are shared by multiple community subscribers who receive credit on their electricity bills for their share of the power produced.

What Does Community Solar Mean for Renters?

Community solar doesn’t require that you own the roof where the solar panels will be installed. Additionally, you do not need to have a direct connection from your home or business to the solar power site — generally you subscribe to the program through your electricity provider.

Solar Policy in California

California has had community solar incentive programs in place for a decade with the goal to expand solar access, particularly in lower-income communities. Those efforts have not taken off in urban areas like Los Angeles largely because the cost of land and building is so expensive.

Current subsidies and electricity prices — especially now that California generally has more solar power than it can use during the day — means the finances don’t pencil out for solar developers. The programs also don’t allow community-based groups to help spearhead community solar projects. A state law passed in 2022, AB 2316, directed the California Public Utilities Commission to address these issues by developing the new rule.

What the New Rule Does

The new rule approved on Thursday expands existing community solar programs for low-income communities. Subsidies attached to those programs cut customers’ bills by 20%. Full text of the rule is here. (PDF opens in new tab or window)

The rule also approves a new community solar program for commercial and residential customers of all income levels. Half of the people who participate in those projects, however, must qualify as low-income. These projects will be funded in part by a $249,800 federal grant from the Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act.