The California Energy Commission held a hearing on Wednesday, November 13, to discuss the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD)’s SolarShares proposal. The SolarShares program could be used by California builders and developers as a compliance alternative to the onsite PV required by the new Title 24 mandate of solar on all new homes starting in 2020. SMUD’s proposal would have allowed home builders to forgo installing rooftop solar by counting panels on solar farms, some of which were built 5 to 10 years ago, according to the California Solar & Storage Association (CALSSA). Solar advocates opposed the proposal, saying it would undermine the mandate and take away from the goal of installing localized solar projects.

The Commissioners voiced many concerns and agreed to postpone the decision to better define “community solar,” according to LA Times energy reporter Sammy Roth. The solar industry was happy with the decision.

“We applaud the Commissioners for preserving the integrity of the new home solar mandate and listening to the public, environmentalists and clean energy business leaders. We look forward to working with the Commission on building smart, local energy that benefits consumers and builds resilient communities,” said Benjamin Davis, policy associate for CALSSA.

SMUD CEO and general manager Arlen Orchard released the following statement in response to the deferral:

“We are extremely disappointed that the CEC deferred action on our Neighborhood SolarShares program. As confirmed by CEC staff, our program proposal met all the requirements of the 2019 Building Standards and provides an important compliance option for builders. Our goal has always been to increase renewable energy sources such as solar, and our program provided flexibility to builders to increase solar use in our communities. The state of California and the Sacramento region are facing an affordable housing crisis and our low-cost solar option provides a valuable tool to lower the construction costs of new homes while supporting carbon reduction goals.

“While we are disappointed, we are committed to this program and will continue to work with CEC to refine the definition of ‘community’ to ensure that the benefits of solar energy can be fully realized while continuing to support affordable housing in the Sacramento region. To date, 87% of our solar resources for this program are within our service territory and our community.

“We are committed to solar energy and have aggressive carbon reduction goals. In order to meet those goals, we must utilize all available options. This program is just one complementary option to rooftop solar.”

Although SMUD maintains that its SolarShares program is good for the community and builders, it requires homeowners to sign up for 20-year community solar terms and says their net benefit will only be about $20 a year.