California regulators must approve community solar to benefit San Joaquin Valley residents | Opinion


Last September, California’s Legislature and Gov. Newsom made a decision to invest in a program that would simultaneously lower our utility bills, create jobs, improve reliability to our grid on hot summer days, and do all of these things without poisoning the air in our most vulnerable communities. Community solar, combined with energy storage, can bring San Joaquin Valley residents renewable energy to our rooftops and ensure our community’s resilience. Despite California’s reputation as the clean energy capital of the United States, most Californians have never even heard of Assembly Bill 2316 (AB2316), which allows the state’s renters to choose to have their energy generated from a solar project in their community. The community solar and storage proposal is supported by a coalition of solar, ratepayer advocates, organized labor, environmental justice, and environmental groups. Twenty-one other states are already benefiting from community solar programs, and we can too, once the California Public Utilities Commission implements the new law. Until the program is finalized, California’s renters — 44 percent of California’s population — have no way of participating in the clean energy economy from their home.

As an early supporter of this proposal, I am thrilled to have been joined by 20 of my colleagues in the Legislature who called on the CPUC to act. Community solar stands to bring billions of dollars in investment for Fresno’s economy and utility bill savings to the tune of $30 million a year for our community. According to the American Lung Association, California holds the dubious record of America’s most polluted regions, and Fresno ranks near the top of the list. Sadly, Fresno suffers from some of the worst air pollution in the country, due in part to the polluting fossil fuel-powered “peaker” plants nearby. The plants create pollutants, which contributes to serious health issues that are prevalent in our Fresno community, such as asthma, and are harmful to the environment.

As an elected leader for the region, I am dedicated to ensuring affordable, reliable, renewable energy is accessible for all, and not just reserved for wealthy homeowners or those who can afford electric vehicles. Solar power combined with energy storage can lower our reliance on gas plants that are common in the district, while lowering electricity bills by $500 per year. In addition to creating jobs, empowering families, and protecting our community from blackouts and expensive utility bills, Fresno’s rooftops can empower our people and defend the health and safety of our citizens.

If California acts to create a new community solar market, the Fresno area has the potential to develop over 150 renewable energy projects that can capture enough energy for its residents to replace 100% of the nearby high-pollution peaker plants. Replacing these power plants with community solar and its storage projects means improved local air quality, while growing Fresno’s economic potential with a commitment to a green energy transition. I am calling on regulators to act, and soon, because the federal government will decide how to allocate its $7 billion fund by the end of the year. What lies in the balance is a potential $1.5 billion in direct investment into Fresno — a revitalization that would spur more than 4,000 good-paying jobs while securing our region’s clean-energy future.

Implementing a community solar program is more important now than ever, as we face public health challenges from pollution and power grid issues like blackouts amid worsening climate conditions, such as heat waves and wildfires. We have already had 10 years of failed attempts to bring community solar options to Californians. If we fail, renters will continue to pay costly utility bills for energy generation that is polluting their communities. This is time sensitive. The CPUC cannot delay further without the risk of leaving the San Joaquin Valley behind.


Anna Caballero is a Democrat representing Merced and Madera counties and parts of Fresno County in the 14th state Senate District. Ana Caballero was elected to the State Senate in 2018. She previously served in the Assembly. Born to a family of copper miners, Caballero moved to California to work at California Rural Legal Assistance, where she represented farmworkers.


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