California's 'virtual net metering' bill could boost solar industry

Solar-powered electricity would be available to renters and business owners who don't own a roof under legislation introduced last month by state Sen. Lois Wolk of Davis.

Solar-powered electricity would be available to renters and business owners who don't own a roof under legislation introduced last month by state Sen. Lois Wolk of Davis.

Solar-powered electricity would be available to renters and business owners who don’t own a roof — that means most businesses — under legislation introduced in California last month by state Sen. Lois Wolk of Davis.

Supporters say “virtual net metering” would create market opportunities for solar developers and create much-needed jobs and tax revenue without using public funds.

The solar market is severely limited by the fact that about 70 percent of businesses lease their facilities, according to Wolk’s office, meaning they are unable to install solar panels or other on-site energy generation systems.

When you include renters and homeowners with steep roofs, shaded roofs or roofs pointing the wrong way for solar energy to make sense, “75 percent of the state of California can’t buy renewable energy. That’s a massive market failure,” said Tom Price, director of policy and market strategies for solar developer CleanPath Ventures LLC of San Francisco.

“There’s no incentive for a business that leases or a renter to invest in something on the roof that will stay behind after you’re gone,” said Price, who is helping draft language for Senate Bill 43. “And no reason for the property owner because they don’t get the benefit.” Despite this, these same customers pay into solar and renewable energy programs, he said.

Under SB 43, utility customers could choose to invest in solar or some other renewable form of energy. Residents, businesses, schools and public agencies would receive a credit on their power bills for the clean power they purchase at a shared off-site renewable energy facility.

Read more in the Sacramento business Journal.

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