CPUC Approves Major Solar Program For Multifamily Affordable Housing

On Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) unanimously approved the new Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) Program, voting to create a new solar rebate program for low-income and disadvantaged communities as directed by a 2015 law.

According to the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA), the potentially $1 billion program will provide up to $100 million annually for 10 years to incentivize installations of solar on multifamily affordable housing properties across the state. A.B.693, a 2015 law sponsored by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, created the program and is expected to help tens of thousands of low-income residents across the state receive credits on their electricity bills from solar energy.

“I am grateful for the work of the solar industry and the environmental justice community for bringing a spotlight to the Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing Program,” says Eggman. “This policy was designed to ensure that families in low-income and disadvantaged communities can also reap the benefits of the booming solar energy industry in California. For too long, families facing the greatest environmental hurdles have been left out and this decision moves some of those benefits that much closer to the families that need them.”

CALSEIA and the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA) cosponsored A.B.693, and the law notably allows tenants to receive credits for electricity produced by the systems at no cost to the tenants, thereby allowing tenants to directly benefit from the solar installation. CALSEIA says the new SOMAH Program approved Thursday provides higher rebates for the tenant portion of the solar system, as well as includes provisions that prohibit passing the cost onto tenants, such as increasing their rent.

“CALSEIA greatly appreciates the leadership of Assemblymember Eggman to create the SOMAH Program and the efforts of the CPUC to get this important program started,” says Kelly Knutsen, senior policy advisor for CALSEIA. “Our partners at Everyday Energy and CEJA were instrumental in getting us to this point. We look forward to increasing access to solar for all Californians by keeping up the momentum and fully funding this program so we can help everyone benefit from our state’s clean energy economy.”

“We are excited to get to work bringing the benefits of solar PV to low-income tenants and owners. It was truly a group effort from originating A.B.693, getting it signed into law, and working with the CPUC to get it implemented,” says Scott Sarem Co-Founder/CEO of Everyday Energy and a CALSEIA member.

In implementing A.B.693, CPUC has provided program funding and guidance for the selection and ultimate responsibilities of a statewide program administrator for the SOMAH Program. According to CPUC, the administrator will be competitively selected from entities responding to a request for proposals.

The SOMAH Program, while similar in structure and goals to California’s Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) Program established in 2008, is a new program with different rules and eligibility requirements, as well as a new funding source. As CPUC explains, SOMAH will be funded up to $100 million annually through the greenhouse-gas allowance auction proceeds of Pacific Gas and Electric Co., San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, Liberty Utilities Co., and PacifiCorp.

“We need to be intentional in transitioning our economy to ensure that every part of our society benefits from the cleaning of our energy supplies. This program ensures that residents of affordable multifamily housing are provided the opportunity to participate and benefit from distributed solar,” says Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves, who was assigned to the proceeding.

“I am pleased that the CPUC has given momentum to the implementation of the Solar on
Multifamily Affordable Housing Program,” adds Eggman. “I appreciate the years of work from all of the stakeholders throughout this process and look forward to getting this program fully funded and launched as soon as possible.”

According to CALSEIA, A.B.693 set a goal to install at least 300 MW of solar on affordable multifamily housing by 2030. Putting that in perspective, 39 MW of solar has been installed on multifamily affordable housing since the establishment of the MASH Program in 2008, the group notes.

The full proposal CPUC approved on Thursday is available here.

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