California mandates solar for new homes, but residents have an alternative


California’s Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) has lauded the California Energy Commission’s (CEC) approval of its Neighborhood SolarShares community solar programme for the 2019 Building Standards, opening the door to community solar.

The standard requires all new residential homes under three stories to be built with solar, starting in 2020.

The SolarShares programme provides solar to new developments through an off-site solar project, like a community solar plan.

The 2019 Building Standards include provisions for developers to meet the mandate for solar energy on all new low-rise residential buildings through a community solar compliance option or rooftop solar and SMUD’s Neighborhood SolarShares programme is intended to provide a compliance option to the new home marketplace. 

The programme includes a 20-year agreement with the developer where SMUD provides solar energy to customers from solar arrays connected to the grid within SMUD’s service territory.

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 (kW) per year. SMUD will collaborate with builders to offer either community solar or rooftop solar at the point of purchase.

SMUD will use its 13-MW Wildflower project located in Rio Linda for the program and said that all additional resources will be 20 MW or less.

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Collectively, SMUD’s SolarShares offerings comprise the largest utility green pricing community solar program of its kind in the US, it said.

“We are thankful that the CEC saw the benefits that community solar programs can provide and are excited to launch this first-of-its-kind program,” said SMUD CEO and General Manager Arlen Orchard.

“This programme provides options to builders and a net benefit to potential homebuyers, all while providing clean power to our community. 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.”

SMUD said that the benefits of SMUD’s Neighborhood SolarShares program include:

  • Removing the long-term maintenance and replacement cost risks of rooftop solar.
  • Allowing for “tree-friendly” developments— keeping the canopy, while increasing shade, and reducing energy usage for home cooling.
  • Guaranteed monthly solar energy for 20 years, even during rainy periods or cloudy weather that does not deteriorate over time like output from rooftop solar systems.

The utility said that community solar systems are more economical because they deliver more energy per dollar spent on the generation system — effectively maximizing a community’s clean energy investment. It added that they can be oriented to provide more solar energy at times when the solar energy is more valuable.

Although this program is a first-of-its-kind for developers, SMUD has provided SolarShares programs for existing customers for many years.

Today, SMUD’s energy portfolio is on average 50% carbon-free and will grow to 80% carbon-free by 2030.

“We have a strong commitment to solar energy and intend to continue to build our portfolio of renewable energy sources so we can meet our carbon reduction goals. In order to meet those aggressive goals, we must utilize all available options, and this is just one complementary option to rooftop solar,” said Orchard.

This story originally appeared on our sister-site, Renewable Energy World.