by Jillian Farmer
The recent passage of Assembly Bill (AB) 2316 may cause some tension down the road with California’s Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs) who already had been developing community solar projects amongst its renewable generation growth.*
Ardi Arian, president and CEO of Renewable America, told NPM during the RE+ Community Solar Conference in San Diego last week that his development company has been working in California with CCAs since 2019. He explained that they chose to work with CCAs because he saw that, at the time, the majority of growth was at the utility-scale but there were also permitting issues due to neighborhoods not wanting to see large solar farms nearby.
“We solve the problem in decentralization,” Arian said, stating that the idea was to get more integration into suburban areas. “There is a lot of need in distributed energy resources (DERs).”
Additionally, he explained that transmission projects often end up waiting in the queue for a couple years, and in places like California and PJM the interconnection queues all but locked down for the past two years.
“In fact, it’s always the challenge permitting interconnection,” Arian said. “So, where we see growth happening is on the DER side where you can be smaller, but not very small, and not a single customer but for a community. Some CCAs support that, and that was our driver.”
Though Renewable America does community solar projects, Arian doesn’t see them as community solar because there is no subscribed management.
“That was not possible when we started the company in California,” he said, adding that there were some who tried to enter that market, but there wasn’t enough program support. With the new AB 2316, Arian said there is potential, and it is being seen as an overall game-changer by pushing community solar beyond what the CCAs could do.
Right now, the company has about 30 projects, some with interconnection ready but no PPAs, while other projects are already under PPAs with about five CCAs.
For Arian, combining what Renewable America has already done with a state community solar program would “be a perfect fit for us.”
Renewable America is contracted so far with Marin Clean Energy (MCE), which was the first CCA to get credit rating. Renewable won two Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) program solicitations, one in 2019 and
another in 2020, which led to contracts for two projects. Renewable America is also contracted with San Jose Clean Energy (SJCE), which Arian described as a success story.
“We had a great fit for project in terms of sizing and looking for disadvantaged communities,” he said, stating that 800 members signed up for the project and received a 20% reduction on their electricity bill.
Other CCAs that his company works with include Peninsula Clean Energy (PCE), Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA), and Clean Power San Francisco (CPSF). The Humboldt County, California Planning Commission recently approved its paired Foster Clean Power A and B projects, of which Foster Clean Power A was contracted to RCEA, according a news report.
The contract with CPSF is still ongoing, but Arian said they are excited by the opportunity.
When he first entered the California market, Arian said he questioned why the state didn’t have a community solar program, saw the “untouched potential,” and discovered that CCAs had stepped up to fill the gap.
“They see themselves as replacing that position,” he said of the gap. “I think as long as there is common interest, I don’t see conflict with the new bill, but at one-point CCAs may feel it is their mission and driver and bringing the community in. In my personal opinion, it’s not a conflict, but let’s see what it looks like in the next five years. Right now, the bill is just out there. We’re excited about it, and everyone wants to do it.”
Arian stated that the new bill is expected to bring in more competition into the community solar space. Thinking around it has changed, opportunities are being seen, and he feels that smaller projects can help mitigate risk and provide better control over development.
“That’s how I’m looking at it as a developer,” he said. “As a power offtaker, there is education necessary. There are CCAs that don’t think there is a big advantage, the scale is not there. I’m saying there is potential untouched, and local projects will increase resiliency.”