Grid-Connected Blinders Removed from California's Distributed Energy Racehorse Posted on Dec 29, 2023

Guest Blog Post By Angela Lipanovich, Attorney & Founder of Estriatus Law

There can be no doubt – California is, and has been, the world’s leader among states and countries in distributed clean energy. This leadership role is thanks to grassroots movements, cutting edge cleantech businesses, hard-working solar contractors, and NGOs, including the Nation’s most effective state-led solar trade organization, known as the California Solar & Storage Associations (CALSSA).

Due to California’s success in enabling homeowners and businesses to own their own distributed energy supplies, the industry has a target on its back. Too many jobs and investments in utility scale energy and the bureaucracies that govern them are at risk to allow California’s distributed energy sector continue its current growth trajectory. The problem, however, is that the majority of California’s ratepayers want the ability to own their own solar supplies. In fact, the most recent survey showed that a super majority of Californian’s support solar.

This past year, CALSSA ended a valiant fight to stop a utility favored new rate for solar customers from going into effect (NEM-3 Decision), and three environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Working Group and Protect Our Communities, fought to overturn the NEM-3 decision in California’s Court of Appeal in the First Appellate District. The former effort was mostly unsuccessful with some part wins, and the later failed. However, both efforts built on decades of fighting for individual solar rights, which collectively put the current state of California’s distributed energy industry at a true tipping point for unstoppable growth.

Now that the NEM-3 decision is settled, the cleantech ball has been placed back into the hands of California’s cleantech manufacturing and solar contracting sectors. These two industries, which employee over 65,000 people in California, have the capability to design and deliver distributed energy systems that are not dependent on the utilities’ electric grid. The importance of this hand off cannot be over emphasized. This is because anything that utilizes California’s electric grid involves the California Public Utility Commission’s painstakingly slow and imperfect solar ratemaking and rule-setting processes along with heavy utility and union lobbying efforts at odds with individual distributed energy ownership. Still, remove the components of grid dependence, and the deployment of distributed energy becomes a lot easier.

It is now up to the cleantech manufacturing sector and solar contractors to deploy non-grid dependent distributed energy systems for fully electrified properties. The nascent nature of this new type of non-grid dependent solar plus storage industry also cannot be over emphasized. For example, one of the leading residential energy storage companies has only existed for a couple of years. Cleantech manufacturers with remarkably short track records are common. Also, the technical complexities of building 100% electric properties with their own non-grid dependent distributed energy systems is difficult for not only homeowners and businesses, but also for the companies who build them.  Still, they can be built now thanks to the decades of people, NGOs and companies who have worked so hard up to this current moment in time.

After seventeen years of working as legal counsel for distributed energy companies, I am excited and optimistic to see what happens as the grid-connected blinders are removed from California’s distributed energy industry racehorse.