California has long been a leader in the field of renewable energy. Its pioneering role has not come without controversy. Recently, energy regulators approved a solar program in the state’s capitol city that endured some controversy of its own.
Last week, the California Energy Commission (CEC) granted approval to the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD) for its proposed Neighborhood SolarShares program, SMUD proposed the program to meet the state’s new mandate that all new residential construction include solar panels. The CEC approved that regulation in 2018, and it went into effect in January of this year. It also allowed community solar as an alternative. The SMUD program is the first to win approval from the Commission under the alternative provision.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, community solar is defined as “a solar-electric system that, through a voluntary program, provides power and/or financial benefit to, or is owned by, multiple community members.”
SMUD describes Neighborhood SolarShare as “a program that can provide solar to new developments through an off-site solar project.”
It includes a 20-year agreement between the utility and the developer. SMUD provides solar energy to customers from solar arrays connected to the grid. Occupants of the homes must participate in the program until the 20-year term is over and will receive an annual net benefit of about $10 per kilowatt per year.
All of the solar provided to the program comes from within SMUD’s service territory. Most of the energy will come from the Wildflower, a 13-megawatt farm in Rio Linda, Calif.
According to Cal Matters, the proposal had encountered opposition from solar advocates who felt it slows rooftop solar’s growth. They believe SMUD will focus on developing their own solar farms instead of advocating for solar in general. The utility made several adjustments in response to that criticism, including guarantees that developers could choose whether to use rooftop solar or SMUD’s community solar.