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California Feed-in Tariff for Poor Communities Passes Assembly

A bill to create feed-in tariffs for the poor and the disadvantaged passed the California Assembly on 30 May 2012.

The "Solar for All" bill, AB 1990, passed the House by a vote of 49 to 27 and was reported to the Senate.

The move is the first significant action on feed-in tariffs in California during this legislative session. It is also the first time in North America that advocates for the poor and disadvantaged have called for equal opportunity to develop renewable energy through the use of feed-in tariffs.

Introduced by Paul Fong (D-Cupertino), the bill would create feed-in tariffs for 375 MW of small-scale renewable generation that would be specifically designed for disadvantaged communities.

The bill is sponsored by the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA).

CEJA's bill has received support from some 70 non-governmental organizations that includes a who's who of the California environmental and social justice community, including Sierra Club California, Union of Concerned Scientists, Natural Resources Defense Council, Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), and Environment California.

Though CEJA dubs the legislation "Solar for All", the bill itself calls for "clean energy contracts" from all "eligible renewable energy resources" in California. 

  • Project size cap: 500 kW
  • Program cap: 375 MW by 2020 at a "regular annual pace"
  • Term: minimum of 20 years
  • Program launch: 2014
  • Tariffs: "sufficient to stimulate the market" in low-income communities, create a diverse range of project sizes and achieve the environmental justice objectives
  • Reporting: annual
  • Administration and Rate Setting: Public Utility Commission (PUC) & local public utilities
  • Cost recovery: ratepayers
  • Cost cap: 0.375% of forecast retails sales in 2020
  • "Eligible" Technologies: Solar Thermal Electric, Photovoltaics, Landfill Gas, Wind, Biomass, Geothermal Electric, Municipal Solid Waste, Energy Storage, Anaerobic Digestion, Small Hydroelectric, Tidal Energy, Wave Energy, Ocean Thermal, Biodiesel, Fuel Cells using Renewable Fuels

It is not clear whether AB 1990 directs the PUC to set tariffs in two bands for those living in disadvantaged communities who can use federal tax subsidies and those who cannot. The bill only notes that the PUC is to take this into account during its deliberations.

AB 1990 contains a potentially onerous provision requiring that each renewable generator be "inspected" by a licensed contractor every two years.

Though utilities are obligated to provide "expedited interconnection," they are exempted from the act's requirements if they claim the grid is "inadequate," that the generator doesn't meet the utility's interconnection requirement, or that the "aggregate of all small-scale renewable generating facilities on a distribution circuit would adversely impact utility operation and load restoration efforts of the distribution system."

Despite these limitations, the introduction alone of AB 1990 by CEJA should put to rest concerns that feed-in tariffs are a regressive form of taxation that penalize the poor. Rather, environmental justice organizers see feed-in tariffs as a more equitable policy tool than existing California programs for developing renewable energy.

CEJA: Solar for All Passes Assembly

AB 1990 Bill Status

AB 1990 Bill History

AB 1990

California Watch: Solar rooftops sought in poor communities

Image: khz via Shutterstock

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