Community solar: Can California get it right this time?

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Episode 33 of the Factor This! podcast features Aaron Halimi, president and founder of the California-based community solar developer Renewable Properties. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

This episode is sponsored by Heila Technologies, a Kohler Company. Scroll down to see how Heila is changing how complex microgrids are managed and operated while making each asset in the system smarter and more efficient.

California is a leader in the energy transition. But even the most mature solar market in the U.S. hasn't always gotten it right.

The Golden State has watched from the sidelines as community solar programs across the country have been wildly successful. These programs open up access to clean energy's benefits for people who are unable to install solar panels at their residence, while on average saving customers 10% on their electric bills.

Minnesota, for example, has installed more than 834 MW of community solar. California, by contrast, had 45 MW as of January 2022.

That's right: Forty-five.

It's not that California hasn't had a community solar program. It's that it hasn't worked.

Now there's an opportunity to fix it. A new law directs state regulators to design a community solar program. Can the state get it right this time?

Aaron Halimi is the founder and president of Renewable Properties, a community solar developer with a rapidly growing portfolio.

Halimi began his solar career in California real estate and was approached by a solar developer to put solar on his family’s property. The more he learned about solar and the development process, the more he wanted to be a part of the industry.

After working for other developers, Aaron founded Renewable Properties in 2017. The California-based company focuses mostly on community solar and small-scale utility projects outside of his home state. That's largely due to California's inadequate community solar policy.

But Halimi said he remains optimistic that, this time, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will craft a policy that opens the market for developers like him.

"The solar market has matured a lot," Halimi said on the Factor This! podcast. "We're more organized as an industry. Our lobbying efforts are that much stronger."

This time around, California has plenty of examples to pick from. Twenty-two states, plus Washington, D.C., have policies that support community solar.

Ultimately, California's community solar program should promote access for all, Halimi said.

"That's what community solar is about," he added. "It's my hope that my home state of California gets it right. I'm betting that we're going to get it right."

What went wrong

California's community solar program was first introduced in 2013. Since then, few projects have been built because they haven't been financially feasible.

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