Transitioning local and state jurisdictions to renewable energy generation requires considering and developing a range of strategies, such as renewable portfolio standards to drive utility scale renewables and net energy metering programs to promote rooftop solar. To apply the energy justice framework and scorecard presented above in this vast field, it’s helpful to narrow in and start by analyzing one strategy for accelerating the deployment of renewables. Below we first assess an area within energy policy ripe for centering equity: community renewable energy, that is, cooperatively generating renewable energy such as solar. In particular, we look at community energy programs adopted in California and New York, where two of the Workbook’s authors worked. Evaluating these policies through an energy justice lens offers insight into both the framework of analysis (the Scorecard), the policies themselves, and how other energy policies may similarly be analyzed under this approach.

Each case study: 

  1. Describes the background for each state’s community energy policies,
  2. Analyzes the procedural aspects – the process of how the policies came to be,
  3. Presents the final outcome of policies and program design, and
  4. Evaluates the policies based on the Energy Justice Scorecard.

What is Community Energy?

This Workbook uses the terms community renewable energy, community energy, and community solar somewhat interchangeably. Community energy and community solar have become umbrella terms applicable to many different versions of cooperatively generating renewable energy.

Community energy is short for community renewable energy and refers to the same general concept as community solar but applies to all forms of renewable energy. Other than specific aspects related to the underlying technology, the policy issues discussed here apply to both community solar and community energy. Community energy and community solar have become umbrella terms applicable to many different versions of cooperatively generating renewable energy. Typically they refer to structures of offsite, but nearby, generation of electricity that multiple electricity customers share.46 However, community energy and community solar can also apply to onsite shared generation (such as solar on multifamily buildings like apartment complexes) or generation that has a community element of some sort, even if the electricity is not shared by multiple electricity customers (for example, multiple people collectively owning solar generation on a third party’s property, even if that third party is the only one consuming the electricity).47

The terms shared renewables or shared solar typically mean only those structures where the electricity is shared by multiple customers, and thus sometimes has a more specific meaning than community energy or community solar. Social justice and economic justice advocates define community energy as being community-owned or community-controlled

The community energy case studies highlight three themes that are similar in both the California and New York context. Effectively designing community energy policies such that they achieve energy justice requires close attention in particular to

  1. Community participation in policy development and program design;
  2. Energy pricing and valuation structures that make projects viable and attractive to customers and developers; and
  3. Sustainable business models that enable community decision-making and control over customer-generated energy resources while balancing the need to target priority customers and provide consumer protection.

Section 3.1 – Case Study of Community Energy Programs in California

As in other states taking the climate crisis seriously, energy policymaking in California is robust, with a myriad of laws and regulations in different areas such as efficiency, generation, building codes, transportation, and more. To begin to understand and analyze whether California’s efforts are achieving energy justice, it’s useful to first explore community renewable energy policies, given their intention to benefit customers otherwise left out by other renewable energy programs. This section analyzes two community energy programs in California: the Enhanced Community Renewables (ECR) program and the Community Solar Green Tariff (CSGT). The section explores each program in depth and then examines them using the Energy Justice Scorecard.

The Enhanced Community Renewables program is California’s general community solar program available to anyone in the state. It has failed to result in any constructed projects after opening for participation in 2016. The Community Solar Green Tariff program is a small targeted program meant to serve low-income and other disadvantaged communities. It was created in 2018 and is set to open for participation sometime in 2020. Using the Energy Justice Scorecard, we give the ECR program a score of 7 out of 25 points and the CSGT 14 out of 25. While the Enhanced Community Renewables program has failed to result in any projects, its regulatory history is important to understand so that similar mistakes are not replicated in other states. Therefore, it is discussed below in less detail and more for the sake of context. The Community Solar Green Tariff illuminates some solutions and advances in the realm of equitable community solar, but also demonstrates policy gaps that persist and limit the achievement of energy justice.

Background: Community Energy Programs In California 

In 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill (SB) 43, creating the Green Tariff Shared Renewables (GTSR) program. This broader initiative included California’s first attempt at providing all California communities with access to offsite shared renewable energy: the Enhanced Community Renewables program.48 That same year, when reauthorizing the state’s net energy metering (NEM) program for home and business owners with rooftop solar panels in Assembly Bill (AB) 327, the Legislature also directed the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the state electricity regulatory authority, to develop specific alternatives to the standard net metering tariff to ensure the growth of renewable distributed generation “among residential customers in disadvantaged communities.”49 In response, the CPUC developed the Community Solar Green Tariff.

Community Energy Programs in California:

Program Name Authorizing Statute (Year) Purpose Specific Statutory Language
1) Enhanced Community Renewables (ECR) Program – a component of the Green Tariff Shared Renewables Program (GTSR) SB 43 (2013) To provide communities with the benefits of access to nearby offsite renewable energy. “A participating utility shall provide support for enhanced community renewables programs to facilitate development of eligible renewable energy resource projects located close to the source of demand.”50
2) Community Solar Green Tariff – a component of the reauthorized Net Energy Meeting (NEM) Program (or NEM 2.0) AB 327 (2013) To provide alternatives to net energy metering and ensure the growth of distributed renewable energy among “disadvantaged communities.”51 “ensures that customer-sited renewable distributed generation continues to grow sustainably and include specific alternatives designed for growth among residential customers in disadvantaged communities.”52

As the diagram below illustrates, the community solar law, GTSR (SB 43), and the reauthorized NEM law, NEM 2.0 (AB 327), which were both passed in 2013, set in motion two CPUC proceedings to develop and implement the related programs and tariffs.

Diagram 5: Policymaking Process for Community Energy Programs in California

One of this Workbook’s authors, Subin DeVar, participated in both CPUC proceedings over the course of three years, from 2015 to 2018, on behalf of the Sustainable Economies Law Center, a nonprofit organization based in Oakland. In the first proceeding (to implement SB 43), the Law Center primarily filed its own initial comments on particular issues related to enabling equitable community-based projects and then subsequently collaborated to submit joint comments with other organizations, including the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA), Clean Coalition, and Greenlining Institute.53 In the second proceeding (to implement AB 327), the Law Center was only involved in the portion of the proceeding that related to developing alternatives for disadvantaged communities and filed all comments during that stage jointly with CEJA, with a focus on proposing an equitable Virtual Net Energy Metering program.54

Statutes and regulatory proceedings such as these provide a rich source of insight into how well the state is achieving energy justice when actually implementing programs and creating the rules that determine who actually benefits from state programs. This section briefly describes both community solar policies and then analyzes them using the Energy Justice Scorecard. As the following discussion illustrates, even laws designed with equity issues in mind may face difficulty fully realizing the equity dimensions of the law once the law is implemented.

Section 3.1.1 – SB 43 Enhanced Community Renewables Program: A Flawed Start


The Green Tariff Shared Renewables program established by SB 43 aims to “expand access” to the benefits of renewable energy in “a manner that facilitates a large, sustainable market for offsite electrical generation.”55 The legislature designed the GTSR program to expand access to the benefits of renewable energy to customers who cannot access the benefits of onsite generation, such as residential rooftop solar generation.56 According to the law, the GTSR program is critical to expanding access to renewable energy benefits by allowing renters, homeowners with shaded rooftops, and individuals who cannot afford a solar system for their residence or business, to receive the “financial, health, environmental, and workforce benefits” of shared renewable energy facilities.57

SB 43 directed the state’s three largest investor-owned utilities (IOUs), Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), and Southern California Edison (SCE) to “file with the … [CPUC] an application requesting approval of a green tariff shared renewables program to implement a program that the utility determines is consistent with the legislative findings and statements of intent of Section 2831,” the purposes summarized above.58 The GTSR program permits “customers within the service territory of the utility to purchase electricity pursuant to the tariff approved by the commission”59 from “renewable energy resources with a nameplate rated generating capacity not exceeding 20 megawatts.”60 In total, the state capped the program at 600 megawatts (MW) and a set a few specific reservations of program capacity for particular purposes.61 The law requires that 100 MW of the statewide limitation be reserved for facilities (no larger than 1 MW) located in areas previously identified by the California Environmental Protection Agency as “the most impacted and disadvantaged communities”.62 Other specific targeting provisions include a requirement that, “[t]o the extent possible, a participating utility shall actively market the utility’s green tariff shared renewables program to low-income and minority communities and customers.”63

While SB 43 describes the GTSR program generally throughout its text, one provision prescribes:

A participating utility shall provide support for enhanced community renewables programs to facilitate development of eligible renewable energy resource projects located close to the source of demand.64

This line is the only provision in SB 43 that specifies anything in particular for the Enhanced Community Renewables program. However, earlier on in the text the statute states: “To the extent possible, a participating utility shall seek to procure eligible renewable energy resources that are located in reasonable proximity to enrolled participants.”65 The latter statement seems to imply either that all participants of the GTSR program are enrolling to receive power from specific resources, or that perhaps they should have the ability to, given the requirement for the utilities to consider proximity to a certain extent. Given the direction to “provide support for enhanced community renewables programs to facilitate … projects located close to the source of demand” it is logical to conclude that the Legislature envisioned that ECR programs would be the avenue where people could access electricity from specific community-based renewable energy projects located offsite but nearby.


Diagram 6: Intended Purpose of California Senate Bill 43

Although the GTSR program generally purported to “expand access” to the benefits of renewable energy in one way – through access to the energy itself – the ECR program appeared aimed to expand access to both renewable energy and the full co-benefits of local, community-based clean energy development. The legislative findings and intent reflect this transformative vision for low- and moderate-income Californians to finally access these benefits.66

Regulatory Policymaking Process

In implementing SB 43, the CPUC interpreted the law as prescribing two programs, a Green Tariff (GT) program that met the general provisions of the statute, and an Enhanced Community Renewables program, that met certain remaining provisions. Therefore, the CPUC split the GTSR implementation proceeding into different phases. The first CPUC decision implemented the Green Tariff program, outlined some major features for the ECR program, and scoped out remaining issues.67 The second decision largely completed implementation of the ECR program.68

On January 29, 2015, the CPUC began implementation of SB 43 by issuing Decision 15-01-051 (“GTSR Decision I”), which established the Green Tariff portion of the GTSR program.69 The Green Tariff option allows customers to sign up for a higher-cost “green” rate and meet 50% or 100% of their energy needs from a pool of renewable projects procured by their IOU. The pool of projects is comprised of new renewable energy facilities of between 500 kilowatts (kW) and 20 MW in capacity. Essentially the Green Tariff is a “green option” for customers to select to get renewable energy directly from the utility, rather than from the utility’s default portfolio of energy resources. However, the Green Tariff program does not allow the customer to select the specific energy generating facility their power is coming from. That option would be covered by the ECR program, to be implemented in a later phase of the proceeding.

The CPUC finalized the rules of the ECR program in 2016 (“GTSR Decision II”),70 and the three IOUs subject to the program held the first auctions to procure ECR projects in August of that year.

Program Design of Enhanced Community Renewables

The ECR program allows customers to contract directly with a developer and subscribe to a specific project for all or a portion of the customer’s energy needs. The ECR program is a hybrid of traditional rooftop solar programs, where the customer receives a bill credit from the IOU based on their subscription to an ECR project developed by a third-party developer. Projects must be developed with community involvement,71 but by default, communities do not own or control the energy produced by the developer. The program does not technically prevent communities from self-organizing and creating a community-based development entity in order to collectively own the ECR project. However, as described further below, in reality, the rules of the program make it both administratively difficult and expensive to self organize.

ECR projects involve three parties: 1) developers, 2) customers, and 3) utilities.

  1. Developers contract with utilities to be allowed to participate in the ECR program and to have the utility buy excess power from a project that isn’t fully subscribed.
  2. Customers contract directly with a developer for a portion of a project’s output. Customers pay developers directly for their subscription.
  3. Utilities credit customers based on their subscription to the project.

Diagram 7: California’s Enhanced Community Renewables Program Design

According to GTSR Decision II, the IOUs set rates at which a customer will be credited for their enrollment in an ECR program, and then a customer and developer separately determine what rate the customer will pay the developer for the subscription. The rate that the IOUs credit customers is a key factor in whether ECR projects will make financial sense for developers and customers. Developers must obtain financing for the project and pay down the cost of the project through the subscription fees it charges customers. The amount of the credit customers receive from the utility will determine how much the customers are willing to pay developers.


Pricing Mechanism

For traditional rooftop solar, the utility credits a customer for solar they generate at approximately the same rate as they would otherwise pay the utility – their “retail” rate. In California, the average price the utility charges a customer to deliver electricity, the “retail” rate, is approximately 19¢/kWh.72 Therefore, when customers generate solar energy, they are credited on their bill about 19¢/kWh. If the customer did not pay upfront for the full cost of installing the system to own it outright, they are likely paying the third-party installer of the system monthly payments for the solar energy being generated by the panels. Say, for example, that the customer is paying the developer 9¢/kWh; they would still save money overall, because the net of the +19¢/kWh credit on their bill, and -9¢/kWh paid to the developer, means they are paying 10¢/kWh less than they would otherwise pay to the utility if they did not have solar.

In the case of the ECR credit, however, GTSR Decision II set the rate a customer would get credited at around the “wholesale” rate for renewable electricity (e.g., the price that the utility would pay for electricity from renewable sources on the open market). Under PG&E’s rates for its ECR program, the ECR credit for customers is roughly 6¢/kWh.73 In this scenario, if the customer is paying the ECR developer 9¢/kWh; they would be spending more money overall, because the net of the +6¢/kWh credit on their bill, and the -9¢/kWh paid to the developer means they are paying 3¢/kWh more in total than they would otherwise pay to the utility if they did not subscribe to the ECR solar project.

Since a developer is not likely to be able to cover its costs of development if it charges the customer less than 6¢/kWh, the developer would be forced to charge the ECR customer a premium to cover its costs. Not many customers are interested in paying more for their power, even if it is cleaner. In contrast, California’s residential rooftop solar program (net energy metering) incentivizes participation on the part of developers and customers because the parties understand they are guaranteed a one-for-one cost exchange for energy produced and the energy used by the customer. However, the ECR program creates a disincentive for participation.

Indeed, the three years that have gone by since the program officially opened prove that result. No utility’s ECR program has secured any customers. Only two of the three utilities have even made conditional commitments to procure projects – 2.4 MW by SDG&E and 1.66 MW by PG&E.74 Those figures are a drop in the bucket of the 600MW allocated to the GTSR program overall.

Considerations of Equity

The implementation of the ECR program raises important equity concerns. First, the discussion of the ECR program was continually delayed — a common theme for equity-oriented deliberations at the CPUC. Second, the fundamental pricing structure of the ECR program was flawed, in spite of adequate evidence and warning that such an approach would lead to failure. Third, the commission created shockingly discriminatory barriers for all but the wealthiest individuals and corporations to participate, including a requirement for project developers to get a legal opinion from one of the richest 100 law firms declaring that the ECR project design does not violate state or federal securities laws.75 After finally getting the process going, these latter two factors were nevertheless the two main reasons for the program’s ineffectiveness.

Where and when did things go wrong? The pricing structure flaw began with a particularly problematic provision in the authorizing legislation regarding program costs. The statute included a “nonparticipant ratepayer indifference” requirement that costs of the GTSR program not impact customers who weren’t participating.76 Basically, the program was not supposed to cost ratepayers more money if they weren’t signed up for it. This statutory language stems from an argument made frequently by investor-owned utilities; namely, that distributed solar energy harms non-participating utility customers by shifting grid maintenance costs not paid by solar customers to non-participants. The “non-impact” language inserted into SB 43 responded directly to this argument, and added an additional barrier to implementation of the law.

The CPUC could potentially have approached this legislative directive in such a way that still enabled projects to be built, but instead it took the most conservative position as advocated by the IOUs. For example, to ensure with absolute certainty that no costs were shifted from non-participating customers to participating customers, the CPUC priced the credit for solar generation near the cost of purchasing wholesale renewable energy. This narrow analysis of cost did not add any other “value” to the tariff, such as lack of reliance on the transmission grid by ECR projects. The CPUC also failed to identify any other possible sources of funding to add to the credit rate offered to customers, such as Cap-and-Trade Auction Proceeds.

Beyond the pricing structure, the CPUC further acquiesced to utility demands regarding implementation, creating numerous barriers in the process and mechanisms of participation. Two issues in particular stand out. First, as noted above, in one of the most shocking outcomes of the proceeding, the CPUC proposed requiring potential project developers to first get a legal opinion certifying that there were no risks of violating securities laws from one of the 100 top-grossing law firms in the country. The list of firms had nothing to do with securities law expertise, but instead was simply based on an annual magazine listing of the wealthiest firms.77 This requirement added significant costs to potential developers and erected a significant barrier to project development. Eventually, with advocacy led by the Sustainable Economies Law Center, this requirement was modestly eased, although the Sustainable Economies Law Center pressed for removing it entirely. Second, rather than create a program that anyone in the public could easily access if they wanted to build a project, the CPUC limited approval of new projects to an opaque biannual auction, rather than a transparent and rolling application.

In the end, the Enhanced Community Renewables program falls far short of its goals to provide all Californians – including renters, low- to moderate-income communities, and environmental justice communities – with access to the benefits of offsite renewable energy generation. The failure of the ECR program reflects a policy choice by California to not design a functional program to expand the benefits of solar ownership and self-generation to the renters, low-income homeowners, and others who were left out of the state’s massive transition to distributed renewable energy.

Application of Energy Justice Scorecard Metrics to CA ECR Policy

As presented above, those evaluating policies through an energy justice lens can apply the Energy Justice Scorecard to crystalize and summarize the many considerations of energy equity. By reviewing whether policies are advancing energy justice, and using the scorecard as a tool for dissecting where policies have succeeded and where they have failed, advocates and policymakers can more effectively direct future efforts. Below we use the framework of five guiding questions to evaluate California’s Enhanced Community Renewables program adopted pursuant to SB 43. This application provides both an example of how the scorecard can be used, as well as additional considerations for advocates and policymakers working on community solar programs. Many states may approach community solar similarly to how California did with the ECR program, so even though the program failed in California, it may succeed in serving as a guide of what not to do for others.

(1) Process: Have marginalized communities participated meaningfully in the policymaking process with sufficient support?

Score 2 – A little bit; more indirectly through a statewide advocacy group than directly. The California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA) participated in the policymaking proceeding at the CPUC. (Note: we have not analyzed who was involved in the original legislation, and so the focus on this analysis is the regulatory implementation.) CEJA is a statewide alliance. One representative of CEJA directly participated in the proceeding, and our understanding is that the representative received direction and feedback from a steering committee representing all of the member EJ organizations who are a part of CEJA. In turn, those EJ organizations themselves are member-based, rooted in low-income communities of color, and have channels for community input and feedback. It’s uncertain, but seems unlikely that many, if any, community members directly engaged with the policymaking process.

There are also general strengths and weaknesses about the policymaking process at the CPUC that are worth noting. First, the CPUC offers Intervenor compensation for anyone’s time spent engaged in the proceeding, if they demonstrate financial need. This is crucial for allowing EJ groups to participate meaningfully. Second, the CPUC doesn’t take a very proactive role in publicizing its proceedings, and there are very specific rules of practice and procedure one has to follow. This means most community members likely would not know that the policymaking was even happening, and even if they did, might have difficulty navigating the process of filing comments, which isn’t very user-friendly.

(2) Restoration: Does the policy aim to remedy prior and present harms faced by communities negatively impacted by the energy system?

Score: 1 – A little bit theoretically, but not at all in practice. Key remedies in the realm of community solar sought by marginalized communities disproportionality burdened by pollution include: (1) financial access and benefits, (2) ease of participation, and (3) alleviation of health issues from sources of pollution.

Financial access and benefits: the ECR program offers no bill savings or discount to make participation financially accessible and presents no clear route for wealth-building or job benefits.

Ease of participation: it is hard to apply for projects due to biannual auctions rather than rolling applications and the costly barrier of the securities legal opinion requirement.

Health: there is no prioritization or value-adding incentive for projects that might offset load from natural gas peaking plants or mechanisms to drive local air quality co-benefits. Projects are not financially viable, so none have been constructed, and thus none of these concerns are being addressed.

(3) Decision-making: Does the policy center the decision-making of marginalized communities?

Score: 2 – Mostly no/a little bit. Participation barriers discussed above make it hard for traditionally excluded populations to be in the driver’s seat of building grassroots-led projects through the ECR program. Furthermore, there is no incentive for community ownership and control. However, the policy does require applicants to demonstrate that there is a certain level of community interest in a project before it is approved. This could help prevent a project from moving forward if there isn’t community buy-in. Still, that requirement represents a more passive approach to ensure a bare minimum of community interest. The policy does not proactively encourage any involvement (nevertheless decision-making) from community members of traditionally excluded population by any specific means.

(4) Benefits: Does the policy center economic, social, or health benefits for marginalized communities?

Score: 1 – No. The ECR policy in practice does not focus on economic, social, or health benefits for traditionally marginalized populations. The program’s focus is only on energy access and even then it fails to achieve any expansion of access to renewable energy because the programs cost more than existing services. Legislatively, the authorizing statute did envision broader benefits, and theoretically, the ECR component could have gone beyond expanding access to energy alone by allowing communities to build projects that promote other economic, social, or health benefits. However, the implemented program does not explicitly focus on achieving any such benefits, nor does it promote them in practice.

(5) Access: Does the policy make energy more accessible and affordable to marginalized communities?

Score: 1 – No. The ECR program is both hard to navigate and costs more than standard electricity rates. Therefore, it fails to make energy more accessible or affordable.


Energy Justice Scorecard: California Enhanced Community Renewables Program

Scoring Key: 1 (No), 2 (A little bit), 3 (Somewhat), 4 (Mostly), 5 (Yes)
Question Score Explanation Reference
(1)  Process: Have marginalized communities participated meaningfully in the policymaking process with sufficient support?


A little bit; more indirectly through a state-wide advocacy group than directly. A record of all party comments can be found here.78
(2)  Restoration: Does the policy aim to remedy prior and present harms faced by communities negatively impacted by the energy system?


A little bit theoretically, but not at all in practice. The policy was supposed to create projects in environmental justice communities, but implementation failed.

(3)  Decision-making: Does the policy center the decision-making of marginalized communities?


Mostly not/a little bit. There is no incentive for community governance, but there are community interest requirements.

(4)  Benefits: Does the policy center economic, social, or health benefits for marginalized communities? 


No. The policy does not focus on economic, social, or health benefits for traditionally marginalized populations.

(5)  Access: Does the policy make energy more accessible and affordable to marginalized communities?


No. The ECR program is both hard to navigate and costs more than standard electricity rates. Therefore it fails to make energy more accessible or affordable.




Section 3.1.2 – AB 327 Community Solar Green Tariff: An Uncertain Step Forward


In 2013, the California legislature reauthorized the state’s net energy metering (NEM) program for rooftop solar by passing Assembly Bill (AB) 327. The law directed the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to develop specific alternatives to the standard net metering tariff to ensure the growth of renewable distributed generation “among residential customers in disadvantaged communities.”79 The Community Solar Green Tariff (CSGT) was one of a suite of programs created by this statutory requirement.

Regulatory Policymaking Process

In 2017-2018, during the second half of the AB 327 implementation proceeding, the CPUC had another opportunity to revisit the issue of equity in its distributed generation policies. In addition to a different statutory directive, a few other things had also changed at the Commission since the implementation of SB 43. First, leadership had shifted, and a Commissioner much more concerned with energy equity, Commissioner Martha Guzman-Aceves, played a much more direct role in ensuring a more successful outcome in the AB 327 proceeding than the SB 43 proceeding. Second, by this point, the failure of the ECR program was already apparent, as well as the stark divergence between the ECR program and net metering-based programs – including Virtual Net Energy Metering (VNEM) programs – which were widely successful due to a strong pricing structure based on crediting customers for energy production at the same rate that they purchase energy. Third, the CPUC’s Energy Division staff were much more engaged with proactively offering policy solutions (rather than simply being reactive to party proposals) and were also much more engaged in reviewing comments from all parties with a critical lens, not just accepting feedback at face value. In particular, as opposed to the SB 43 proceeding, the CPUC did not simply rubber stamp many of the arguments of the IOUs. 

At the same time, a few other contextual differences were at play between the AB 327 and SB 43 proceedings. First, while AB 327 encouraged cost containment, the law didn’t explicitly specify that the programs couldn’t lead to rate increases for non-participants.80 Second, the CPUC considered separate funding sources for the disadvantaged community programs, an effective solution for avoiding arguments of supposed “cost-shifting.” Nevertheless, even though the stage was set for a better – more equitable – outcome in the AB 327 proceeding, as time went by, hopes for a robust and fair virtual net metering based community solar program for disadvantaged communities dwindled.81 This resulted in part from parties advocating for divergent positions and in part from the Commission’s decision-making process.

Proposals by Different Players in the Process

The CPUC requested proposals from parties to the proceeding for alternatives to net energy metering for disadvantaged communities and most of the proposals offered fell roughly into three approaches. First, green tariff-based proposals outlined programs that would give customers access to renewable energy, but no element of net energy metering or potential for community ownership of local resources. In addition, some parties recommended the expansion or extension of the Single-family Affordable Solar Housing “SASH” program, which provided incentives for net metering-based solar installations on  single family affordable housing. Finally, there were two proposals for creating a virtual net energy metering (VNEM) based program to enable offsite community solar.

The first of two VNEM-based proposals was submitted by Vote Solar/Solar Energy Industries Association (“Solar Parties”). Their “DAC VNEM” proposal recommended expanding the existing VNEM program under the same retail rate compensation rules to allow any resident of a designated “Disadvantaged Community” or “DAC” census tract to subscribe to energy from any community solar project located in any other DAC census tract.82

Second, the California Environmental Justice Alliance/Sustainable Economies Law Center proposal for an “Equity VNEM” program aimed to promote smaller, local, community-owned renewable energy projects. The Equity VNEM proposal was offered as an add-on to the Solar Parties VNEM program, to address a few shortcomings of that model. Primarily, the industry proposal didn’t encourage community-based projects (participants of a project could be from all over the IOU’s service territory), projects didn’t have a size limit, and there were no incentives for community ownership and control. These three issues were all tackled by the CEJA/SELC proposed add-on layer of Equity VNEM to prioritize projects that were close to customers, smaller, and collectively controlled.83

VNEM-based proposals ultimately led to the creation of the Community Solar Green Tariff. Proponents of VNEM argued that it was a necessary alternative to the standard NEM tariff, because NEM is fundamentally about self-generation, the economic benefit of bill credits tied to actual solar generation, and customer-based participation and demand. These characteristics of NEM could not be achieved simply by green tariff-based or SASH-based programs alone, the parties insisted. While the CPUC did not ultimately create a VNEM-based program as part of this proceeding, it created the CSGT program in an attempt to address some of the issues and goals raised.

CPUC Deliberations

Initially, it appeared that the Commission would implement some form of VNEM, with modifications to make it more community-based, though not incentivizing community ownership. While the Administrative Law Judges assigned to the proceeding did not include any form of a VNEM program in their Proposed Decision, one of the five Commissioners who heads the CPUC, Commissioner Martha Guzman-Aceves, simultaneously issued an Alternate Proposed Decision (APD) on the same day that included a VNEM-based Community Solar program. However, the Solar Parties argued that the APD’s Community Solar proposal would not work and requested modifications to the program. The IOUs also attacked the APD’s VNEM proposal, but had no interest in the program being improved at all; they advocated that the CPUC pull the proposal entirely. Rather than fixing the issues raised against the VNEM Community Solar proposal, even this door that was slightly cracked open was subsequently shut.

Ultimately, the CPUC walked back the VNEM-based program and proposed a more modest tariff-based community solar program: the Community Solar Green Tariff. The Community Solar Green Tariff (CSGT) allows people to subscribe to solar energy associated with a new installation nearby them – within 5 miles. And it allows communities to find new methods for maximizing the use of rooftop space and other areas for solar production. It wasn’t exactly what parties had asked for, but the equity-aligned parties still saw it as something better than nothing, and supported its adoption while arguing for improvements as well.

Program Design of Community Solar Green Tariff

The CSGT program aims “to allow primarily low-income customers in certain disadvantaged communities to benefit from the development of solar generation projects located in their own or nearby disadvantaged communities” to “provide benefits to the participating customers, benefits to their communities, and benefits to the environment.”84 CSGT is meant to fill a gap in clean energy programs, specifically to serve renters and low-income communities who do not reside in multi-family buildings, and provide them a way “to access green benefits from a local source at an affordable cost.”85 Furthermore, it strives to allow indirect community ownership and leverage unique community solar funding sources.86

CSGT is a community solar program based on a “green program” or “green tariff” model rather than virtual net energy metering.87 Subscribing residential customers on the CSGT get 100% renewable energy at a 20% discount as compared to their otherwise applicable rate.88 The program requires community involvement; CSGT projects must have a nonprofit or government “Local Sponsor.” The Local Sponsor is eligible to receive the 20% bill discount.89


Diagram 8: California’s Community Solar Green Tariff Program Design

Key Elements of Community Solar Green Tariff Program

  • Program Capacity: The CSGT program is limited to 41 MW in total across all IOUs and community choice aggregators (another type of energy provider in California).90 This represents an estimated 6,700 households.
  • Project Size: The upper limit on project size is 3MW or 30% of the total capacity in that IOU’s Community Solar Green Tariff program, whichever is larger.91 The program explicitly does not set a lower limit on project size. (Unlike the 500kW minimum in the GTSR program.)
  • Definition of Disadvantaged Community (“DAC”): One of the top 25 most vulnerable census tracts statewide as identified by CalEnviroScreen 3.0, as well as the “22 census tracts in the highest 5 percent of CalEnviroScreen’s Pollution Burden, but that do not have an overall CalEnviroScreen score because of unreliable socioeconomic or health data.”92
  • Location of Projects & Customers: CSGT projects must be sited in a DAC and subscribers to a project must be in the same census tract where the project is located or in a DAC within 5 miles of the subscriber’s DAC.93
  • Ownership: CSGT is meant to allow a “sense” of indirect community ownership in projects as well as community involvement. The program does not incentive financial ownership, but indirect ownership is still technically feasible because there can be third party ownership, and participants can be part of an entity that owns the project.94
  • Low-Income Requirement: 50% of customers must be low-income customers. For this program, the CPUC defines low-income customers as CARE-eligible and FERA-eligible customers.95
  • Bill Credit: The CSGT program provides a flat guaranteed 20% discount on a customer’s total bill – based on their “otherwise applicable residential tariff” before signing up for the CSGT program. 96
  • Community Sponsorship:
    • Requirement: In order to demonstrate community involvement, CSGT projects must have a “non-profit community-based organization or local government ‘sponsoring’ a project on behalf of residents.” Sponsorship requires a letter of commitment from the organization, which must include elements such as a demonstration of community interest, estimates of size and subscriptions, a preliminary outreach plan, and community siting preferences.97 Sponsors should also include job training and workforce development efforts.98
    • Incentive: The Local Sponsor is eligible to receive bill credits based on the CSGT (i.e., 20% discount) for up to 25% of the project’s capacity, but not more than the Sponsor’s energy needs.99 This discount lasts for the life of the project.100
  • Procurement Process: Projects are accepted through an auction-based process, in which the project is selected after a competitive solicitation. Once accepted, the IOU executes a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the applicant solar project developer. The CSGT program does not require any direct relationship between the subscriber and the project developer.101 IOUs must issue at least two RFOs per year for CSGT projects and prioritize four types of projects in particular, listed below.102
    • Prioritizations:
      • Projects located in top 5% most vulnerable communities (about 500 census tracts)103
      • Projects located in San Joaquin Valley pilot communities104
      • Projects that leverage other government funding or projects “that provide evidence of support or endorsements” from local or state climate programs or initiatives105
      • Projects that include job training and workforce development factors – “As part of their RFO process, utilities should prioritize job training and workforce development factors. Further, sponsors should ensure that their efforts include job training and workforce development efforts to benefit the local communities which would benefit from the projects”106
    • Cost Containment: “We will establish a cost cap similar to that in the Enhanced Community Renewables Environmental Justice program, which has a cap of 200% of the historical RAM clearing price.” But for CSGT: “utilities should limit contract awards to Community Solar Green Tariff program projects whose bid price is at or below the higher of 200 percent of the maximum executed contract price in either the Renewable Auction Mechanism’s as-available peaking category or the Green Tariff program.”107

The following hypothetical example helps to demonstrate how a CSGT project might work. In this example, the Local Sponsor is a church. The Local Sponsor church will also be the host of the solar system, which will have a capacity size of 100kW and be located on the church’s roof. The church will sign a commitment letter with a solar developer outlining efforts that will be conducted by the church, including outreach and community organizing. The solar developer will install or manage installation of the system and enter an agreement with the utility for the utility to purchase the power from the system. The utility will directly handle billing and customer service for enrolled customers. Those enrolled customers will get a 20% discount on their overall bill each month with no upfront costs.

Hypothetical Example of a Community Solar Green Tariff Project:

  • System size: 100kW capacity system
    • The Local Sponsor is a church with a roof that can support a system with 100 kW capacity.
  • Sponsor subscription: 25kW capacity
    • The church’s historical/estimated usage (i.e., past 12 month kWh usage + any variation likely for future) equals an estimated need of a 25kW sized system at that location (based on solar radiation/system performance calculators).
    • So, the Sponsor subscribes to 25% of project capacity (25kW/100kW).
    • The church gets the 20% discount CSGT rate for usage up to 25% of the system’s output. Any additional usage will be billed at the church’s otherwise applicable rate.
  • Customer subscriptions: 75kW capacity in total
    • The remaining 75 kW of capacity is apportioned to customers based on their actual historical/estimated usage (i.e., past 12 month kWh + any likely change)
    • Let’s say the average for 25 residents is 3kW capacity need each, for a total of 75kW.
    • The customers get a 20% discount on every monthly bill, regardless of actual monthly usage.


Pricing Mechanism

Because CSGT is not a VNEM-based program, the economics of developing projects is a bit more obscure, and ultimately it is not clear if projects will be constructed under this program. To build a project, a solar project developer must first secure a power purchase agreement (PPA) from the utility, which will then allow the developer to finance the project. To secure a PPA, the developer must submit a bid in a competitive, auction-based, solicitation. The bid is an offer to sell power from a proposed CSGT project at a specified price. As noted above, the utilities may not accept bids higher than a certain level, that is, bids more than twice the cost of the highest bid accepted in another renewable energy auction. By design, auction bids are confidential, so it is not known what exact price will win in a CSGT procurement auction, and thus how much a developer will get paid for power from a CSGT project. However, wholesale renewable energy contracts (for utility scale solar or wind) are typically in the range of 4 to 6 cents/kWh, so the CSGT bid cap might be around 8 to 12 cents/kWh. Even at that range, it’s not clear if such revenue will be enough to cover construction, customer acquisition, and other costs to build a project. While it’s a price range that has enabled community-scale solar installations, solar industry representatives have expressed concern that some CSGT program requirements, such as the geographic limitations and customer income qualification limitations, will make projects too costly to pencil out.

On the other hand, the economics of participation from a customer’s standpoint is in some ways more clear for CSGT than a net metering-based program. With net metering programs, a customer receives credits on their electricity bill and pays the utility less per month, however they either have to pay upfront to install their system or pay a solar company monthly payments in addition to their utility bill. Therefore, it can be a bit more challenging to calculate how much a customer might save overall.

Considerations of Equity

If projects can get built, CSGT will represent a significant step forward for equitable community solar in California. Even though the program is limited in its overall size to only be up to 45 MW, it would allow the development of local solar projects that customers could choose to receive their power from at a clear discount and with no upfront costs. It would allow customers in communities overburdened from pollution to access these benefits and would not only be limited to low-income customers. Nevertheless, it is a major issue of fairness and equity that the program size is so small, that customers do not have access to bill credits as valuable as net metering-based credits, and that the procurement pricing limitations leave so much doubt as to whether projects can get built at all.

Application of Energy Justice Scorecard Metrics to CA CSGT Policy

Below we evaluate the Community Solar Green Tariff adopted under AB 327 by applying the Energy Justice Scorecard. While we assessed the ECR program as having a score of 7, we give CSGT a 14 using the scorecard. The higher score and accompanying analysis demonstrates the progress that was made and that which is still needed. In particular, the CSGT program has made meaningful progress to ensure marginalized communities receive energy and non-energy benefits from the program, and slightly increases the economic feasibility of project development. CSGT has not yet been fully implemented, however, and questions will remain until it goes online and can be more thoroughly evaluated.

(1) Process: Have marginalized communities participated meaningfully in the policymaking process with sufficient support? 

Score: 3 – Somewhat. The answer here for CSGT is mostly the same as for the ECR program, although there was slightly more community participation. Primarily, that participation came in the form of CEJA being a party to the proceeding and being actively involved. In addition, one of its member groups, APEN was also directly involved, so that increased the amount of participation. CEJA also received support from a legal clinic and partnered with the Sustainable Economies Law Center on some comments, which expanded its capacity to participate in the policymaking process. There were also more organizations that represent low-income communities involved in this proceeding, outside of CEJA member groups, including the Brightline Defense Project, which works to create sustainable environments and empower low-income communities, including the San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point community.

(2) Restoration: Does the policy aim to remedy prior and present harms faced by communities negatively impacted by the fossil-fuel based energy system?

Score: 3 – Somewhat. CSGT was specifically designed to target barriers faced by disadvantaged communities in accessing the benefits of distributed renewable generation. The Commission was responsive in aiming to design a program that promoted local solar generation on community buildings in pollution-burdened communities. However, it does not go far enough to robustly address the concerns raised to significantly counter prior harms. Financial access and benefits: the program includes a flat 20% discount and potentially opens the door for community-based developers who could use the program as a means for wealth-building and job creation. But that’s very tentative, and also the size of the program isn’t very large, so it’s not likely to drive a lot of projects, wealth, or jobs. Ease of participation: the program unfortunately still relies on a biannual auction, but doesn’t have a securities legal opinion requirement. Health: CSGT doesn’t explicitly target replacing emissions from local fossil fuel power plants but is focused on siting solar projects in pollution-burdened census tracts.

(3) Decision-making: Does the policy center the decision-making of marginalized communities?

Score: 2 – A little bit. The policy includes a requirement that projects have a community sponsor, who can also access the 20% bill savings, so that is an avenue to get more community participation and involve a community anchor institution. However, CSGT does not otherwise require, incentivize, or do anything proactively to encourage decision-making by the community. The commission declined to specifically promote community-ownership or control, but collective ownership is technically still possible because the program allows third party ownership of solar projects.

(4) Benefits: Does the policy center economic, social, or health benefits for marginalized communities?

Score: 2 – A little bit. As noted above, the program does include bill savings, potentially a route for local wealth-building and good jobs, and perhaps health benefits from local siting. However, the likelihood for benefits beyond the bill savings is quite tenuous. CSGT does not include any specific mechanisms or evaluation methods to ensure or reflect on the attainment of such benefits.

(5) Access: Does the policy make energy more accessible and affordable to marginalized communities?

Score: 4 – Yes, probably. Participants receive a 20% bill savings discount and that discount applies on top of other discounts from low-income assistance programs such as California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) and Family Electric Rate Assistance Program (FERA). CSGT also requires that at least 50% of the capacity of each project is allocated to low-income residential customers. On the one hand, this may drive accessibility and affordability for working class families because they must be included, but on the other hand it may make it challenging to build projects and sign up enough customers. So there remains a major question of whether projects can and will be built, and if they cannot, then of course no one will see such benefits. Other factors that have also raised concerns from analysts about the economic viability of constructing projects include the geographic limit to the customer base for projects108 and the utility procurement pricing method employed.109

Energy Justice Scorecard: California Community Solar Green Tariff Program

Scoring Key: 1 (No), 2 (A little bit), 3 (Somewhat), 4 (Mostly), 5 (Yes)

Question Score Explanation Reference
(1)  Process: Have marginalized communities participated meaningfully in the policymaking process with sufficient support?


Somewhat. Primarily, in the form of an alliance being a party to the proceeding and being actively involved, along with a few more orgs.

A record of all party comments can be found here.110

(2)  Restoration: Does the policy aim to remedy prior and present harms faced by communities negatively impacted by the energy system? 


Somewhat. CSGT was specifically designed to target barriers faced by disadvantaged communities in accessing the benefits of distributed renewable generation.

(3)  Decision-making: Does the policy center the decision-making of marginalized communities? 


A little bit. Does not incentivize community control, but requires a local sponsor to assist in community outreach.

(4)  Benefits: Does the policy center economic, social, or health benefits for marginalized communities? 


A little bit. The program includes 20% electric bill savings, but benefits beyond that are uncertain.

(5)  Access: Does the policy make energy more accessible and affordable to marginalized communities?


Yes, probably. In addition to the bill discount there is a requirement that 50% of the capacity of each project is allocated to low-income residential customers.




Section 3.2 – Case Study of Community Distributed Generation Program in New York

This section reviews New York’s Community Distributed Generation (“CDG”) program, which came out of Reforming the Energy Vision (“REV”) – a broad overhaul of the electricity generation and distribution system in New York State. The CDG program allows multiple electricity customers to access energy and benefits from a single energy generation project. Using the Energy Justice Scorecard, we give the CDG program a score of 14 out of 25 points. While New York’s CDG policy seeks to address energy-related burdens for low-income and environmental justice communities, it does not include environmental justice components in the value of solar or public health, economic, and other social benefits of a solar project.


Key guiding principles for REV are (1) transitioning from centralized to distributed energy generation, (2) improving the reliability of transmission and distribution infrastructure, (3) phasing out of fossil fuel-based generation and expansion of renewable energy resources, (4) developing more resilient grid infrastructure and energy generation in the face of extreme weather and climate change impacts on weather patterns, (5) facilitating increased agency and individual choice on the part of the electricity consumer, and (6) improving and sustaining deep affordability of energy for consumers.111

REV grew out of both the acute shock of Superstorm Sandy as well as a recognition of more chronic and longstanding stresses on the energy system, energy generators, and energy consumers. Superstorm Sandy put in sharp relief the need for more resilient electricity infrastructure in the face of sweeping blackouts and power outages that lasted for weeks in some communities. The disparate impacts of extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy on lower-income New Yorkers, the elderly and infirm, and public housing residents were also apparent as the communities that suffered the worst outcomes were those with limited access to the resources necessary to weather the storm and recover in its aftermath. Public housing developments in lower lying areas of New York City faced significant flooding and prolonged blackouts, coastal communities saw entire blocks ravaged, and critical infrastructure throughout New York City, including the transit system and a Con Edison facility, were seriously damaged. The failure of the electricity grid alone resulted in life threatening and in some cases fatal conditions. The Sandy post-mortem was replete with stories of residents requiring elevators for accessibility purposes stranded in their homes, those with serious health conditions unable to use critical medical equipment, lack of access to fresh food, cooking, medicines, and inability to climate control homes resulting in serious health concerns for families, young children, and the elderly. The calls for meaningful change that would result in better preparedness and resiliency, particularly for the most vulnerable populations, grew in large part out of these deeply troubling stories and the desire for communities to build power and agency to withstand the next storm. The widespread power outages and energy system vulnerabilities revealed by Superstorm Sandy spurred New York regulators to action, and in 2015, the state’s energy regulators opened the Reforming the Energy Vision regulatory docket to advance the state’s transition toward a cleaner, more nimble energy system.

Prior to Superstorm Sandy, New York’s electricity generation system was far from optimized. Lack of access to affordable, reliable energy posed an ongoing and significant challenge for New York City’s low-income residents. New York’s electricity rates were 59 percent higher than the national average, and some low-income residents were paying up to 20 percent of their income towards utility costs, while higher-income residents often paid less than 5 percent. Low-income households were also more likely to experience power termination due to lack of bill payment, and additional penalties that only compounded their inability to pay. Due to increasing energy prices and volatility, New York utilities issued a record number of shut-off notices to customers in 2015. These challenges were not merely academic but very real lived experiences: without utilities, residents cannot properly heat or cool their homes, which can be fatal for vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those living with chronic health challenges. In addition, routine daily activities, such as getting ready for work, completing schoolwork, preparing food, or even simple mobility through an apartment building can be nearly impossible without working utilities.

Regulatory Process

At its inception, REV had themes of inclusivity, access, and equity. New Yorkers would be able to access clean energy “regardless of their income or zip code,” Richard Kauffman, the State’s appointed leader on energy policy, stated in 2015. Affordability was also front and center, with the goal of alleviating utility burdens across the state a key driver of the proposed infrastructure improvements and need for more robust clean energy development. The recognition that the energy affordability crisis hit lower-income New Yorkers in much more profound ways than higher-income New Yorkers fueled the search for policies that would not only encourage more renewable energy throughout the state but also make it accessible to residents who traditionally could not tap into a renewable energy source due to economics or renter status.

The principles of access and affordability dovetailed with the other REV concept of customer choice, that electricity customers should have more agency to choose where their energy came from and how it was generated. This idea, coupled with REV’s other core goal of increased renewable energy development, opened up new policy avenues that would allow for innovative models of energy generation and ownership. Advocates and policymakers recognized the more transformational possibility stemming out of this potential policy platform – that communities could directly participate in local, community-owned distributed clean energy generation. The possibility of customers moving beyond a status as “ratepayers,” those that simply receive and pay a bill from a corporate utility, to energy generators and consumers (or “prosumers”) would allow individuals and communities to create real value out of clean energy development and most importantly, keep that value and the accompanying benefits, within their own communities and households.

This vision ended up codified in New York’s community distributed generation policy and its accompanying Public Service Commission proceedings and orders.112 Community distributed generation (“CDG”), in the New York energy policy context, can refer to a wide range of energy generation systems in terms of scale, energy source, and technologies. However, the unifying principle underlying all CDG systems in New York state is that multiple individuals, households, and ratepayers may jointly participate in an energy generation project either as owners or subscribers and collectively partake of the benefits flowing from that project, whether it be the energy itself and/or the economic value from resale to the grid.

Relevant Proceedings within REV with Energy Justice Impacts

REV is an umbrella regulatory reform platform that ultimately contained within it a number of dockets at New York’s Public Service Commission (“PSC”) that facilitated the actual regulatory proceedings necessary to realize the articulated goals of REV as a policy. The proceedings within REV most relevant to energy justice considerations and impacts include: 

  • Community Distributed Generation/Shared Renewables/Community Solar
  • Value of Distributed Energy Resources
  • Uniform Business Practices for Distributed Energy Resources Providers
  • Energy Storage
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Microgrids

Diagram 9: Key Proceedings within Restoring the Energy Vision (REV)

Each of these proceedings were commenced at different times during multiple phases of REV starting in 2014 and continuing to date. A proceeding would typically involve some sort of kick-off that included preliminary information gathering and a stakeholder process where staff at the Department of Public Service (“DPS”), the agency that supports the PSC, would hold meetings and allow for filings on the docket to effectively scope the problem to be tackled in the particular proceeding. From there, each proceeding tended to take different forms depending on the nature of the types of stakeholder and expert input required and the timeline needed given the depth of a particular topic area. Often an iterative process, DPS would take preliminary input gathered through meetings, filings responsive to specific questions put forth by DPS, and other avenues of expert input, and issue a Staff Report that would detail recommendations as to how to proceed, typically including specific frameworks for a potential PSC order (the form that PSC official regulatory policy takes) addressing the matter at hand. Stakeholders would then have an opportunity to comment on the Staff Report, and these responses would be included in the record and accounted for in the PSC’s ultimate decision on the form a policy should take in its final order on the topic.

Participants in the proceeding included the following categories of groups and representatives (not intended to be an exhaustive list):

  • Utilities from across New York State
  • Representatives of solar industry trade associations and individual renewable energy developers
  • Environmental conservation-oriented NGOs
  • Representatives from environmental justice organizations and coalitions
  • Academic institutions and affiliates working in the energy and environmental field
  • Policy think tanks working in the energy and environmental field
  • Representatives from local, municipal, and county government
  • Representatives from organizations advocating for low-income customers and communities
  • Consumer advocates

Program Design of Community Distributed Generation

While REV included many regulatory proceedings, as described above, the PSC’s Community Distributed Generation (“CDG”) Order and its progeny formed the fundamental (and in many ways seismic) shift underpinning New York’s policy reform to allow for increased access, equity, and justice in the energy space. New York’s CDG policy, the regulatory framework that provides the basis for the more commonly referred to “community solar,” allows for a separation between a project developer (or “sponsor” under the CDG Order), the owner of the property on which the project is located, and those that own the energy produced.

Under a typical netmetering scheme, in contrast to CDG, these three roles are typically held by the same entity. For example, an individual may elect to install solar panels on a roof they own and subsequently use that generated solar energy to power their own home or sell it back to the utility grid to make profit. CDG allows for those that cannot generate or use renewable energy on property they own, or directly finance such a project, to nonetheless participate in a project that facilitates expanded renewable resources and earn economic value from those resources. For example, a CDG project sponsor may find a site, such as a parking lot or institutional roof, that could host a large photovoltaic system. The sponsor enters into a lease agreement with the owner of the site that allows the sponsor to conduct the necessary feasibility studies to build, access, and maintain the infrastructure. The sponsor can then enter into separate agreements with potential “subscribers” to the project – a subscriber may purchase an ownership interest in a set of panels that are part of the bigger project or may purchase a share in the legal entity that owns the project or may purchase a subscription to buy a certain amount of produced energy. By separating out these three roles, conceptually, CDG should dramatically expand access to renewable energy generation and its co-benefits.

Diagram 10: New York’s Community Distributed Generation Program Design


Given this expansion under the new CDG Order, utilities became concerned with the potential burdens on the grid due to an increased volume of distributed solar projects coming online. Grid interconnection queues under the new CDG Order ballooned as project sponsors sought to take advantage of the new opportunity afforded by the CDG model.113 From a technical standpoint, utilities carefully monitor and control the interconnection of distributed energy generation (most commonly prior to the CDG Order, rooftop solar) to ensure that the grid can handle the input from such systems when energy is fed back into the grid and maintain reliability. Additionally, utilities must compensate individuals for any energy fed back onto the grid from their projects. Up until recently, the amount of compensation was calculated pursuant to Net Energy Metering (“NEM”) – the retail value that a customer would pay for a kilowatt-hour of energy is the same value that customer would receive for feeding a kilowatt-hour of energy back into the grid.


Utilities in New York began to call for a shift from NEM to some other compensation scheme that would account for the cost burdens on the system due to a project’s interconnection to the grid.114 Essentially the utilities argued that NEM overestimated the total value of a unit of energy sold back to the utility and was too coarse of a metric to properly capture the value a utility should be paying for a unit of distributed energy from a project.115 This call for reform to NEM is not being made only by utilities in New York State, but rather is part of a national trend by utilities seeking to change the compensation scheme for energy fed back onto the grid. Utilities argue generally that such reform is needed because the penetration of renewables onto the grid is increasing, thereby making compensation at NEM levels unrealistic as renewables continue to scale. Specifically, utilities cite to potential impacts to the costs other ratepayers using energy off the grid are paying if compensation for distributed energy to those generating it is too high. Debate on this issue rests in part on the threshold level of penetration of renewables on the grid (usually described as the percentage of total energy on the grid that is coming from distributed renewables) that would call for a change to NEM compensation. For example, research conducted by Berkeley Lab found that impacts on rates would remain at 5% or less if NEM compensation was used for distributed generation penetration levels that were less than 10%. Arguably then, a “NEM 2.0” would not be necessary until penetration levels reached 10%. For comparison, the national average as of that study was 0.4%.116 While this is a national average, by definition some jurisdictions examined as part of the study had penetration levels higher than this.

In response to the call for NEM reform in New York State, the PSC opened the Value of Distributed Energy Resources (“VDER”) proceeding, an effort to figure out what a replacement for NEM would look like.117 This proceeding sought to establish a more refined calculation of the true costs and benefits of a unit of energy, in a particular location on the grid, at a particular time, being sold to the grid to determine how utilities should compensate generators for that particular unit of energy. Given the complexity of this calculation, the core element of the VDER scheme is a “value stack” which includes a number of layers of different types of value (e.g., a time of day factor, a locational factor, a wholesale price factor). As detailed below, the components of the value stack and the calculation of the amount of the costs and benefits became ground zero for how equity and justice considerations are accounted for within the REV framework as a whole.


Diagram 11: Original VDER Value Stack Components — Source: NYSERDA

The Value Stack includes components that vary with project characteristics including location on the grid (i.e., LBMP or location-based marginal pricing), which capture in part the relieved burdens on the grid due to the distributed resource, and the environmental characteristics of the project (i.e., “E” – the component available to CDG projects that utilize a renewable source of energy including solar, fuel cell, hydro, wind, tidal, and somewhat controversially in the environmental justice community, biomass). The Market Transition Credit (MTC) was designed purely as a market incentive mechanism to bolster the initial Value Stack level to an amount closer to what projects would get under NEM. It was intended to soften the blow of the transition from NEM to VDER and to be phased out over time as, theoretically, the CDG market took off and no longer required it.


Considerations of Equity

New York has sought to address equity and access to clean energy for low-income New Yorkers in a number of dockets within REV, principally: (1) the CDG proceeding, (2) the VDER proceeding, and (3) the Low Income Affordability proceeding. At times, these three proceedings dovetailed and at times they ran in parallel, arguably addressing different aspects of securing clean and affordable energy for low-income New Yorkers but ultimately requiring reference back to one another given the interrelated nature of the issues each addressed.

When the Commission first issued the Community Distributed Generation (CDG) order in July 2015, it included a carve out for an initial phase that would prioritize the development of CDG projects that had at least 20% low- to moderate-income (LMI) subscribers in the Phase 1 of the CDG policy roll-out.118 While this was a heartening indication of the possibility of prioritizing low-income inclusion in CDG at the outset, the lack of subsequent project support and guidance on workable low-income CDG models resulted in no CDG projects being built during this preliminary phase. The PSC, in its first CDG Order, was trying to balance project feasibility in a brand-new and largely unknown CDG market with prioritizing the REV goal of access and affordability for low-income customers. Unfortunately, the initial 20% carveout policy didn’t ultimately strike the right balance.

In the hopes of addressing low-income participation in CDG with a more long-term strategy than the 20% carve out approach in the first phase of CDG implementation, DPS Staff commenced a Low-Income Collaborative process that brought stakeholders to the table to brainstorm and develop solutions to address low-income participation in the clean energy sector and CDG in particular.119 The Collaborative culminated in the release of a report in August 2016 that reflected deep work and consensus-building by stakeholders.120 DPS Staff elected to not take up any of the recommendations from that lengthy report and declared that there was effectively a market failure in the low-income sector requiring alternative utility ownership interventions. This conclusion was in many ways circular, as the Collaborative had been tasked to develop solutions precisely because the LMI sector wasn’t properly addressed by current policies.

Pricing Mechanism

The VDER proceeding provides arguably the most robust example of the role of procedural justice in addressing low income and environmental justice issues. Stakeholders provided detailed and emphatic feedback to DPS through the various early stakeholder processes, technical conferences, and formal comment periods as to the likely impacts of VDER on low-income access to CDG and how those impacts could be mitigated. Additionally, many stakeholders articulated the need for CDG policy to properly account for environmental justice and that such considerations should be included in the VDER value stack mechanism itself. Specifically, advocates and experts called for the full valuation of all the benefits to communities and customers of expansion of DERs, not just costs to the grid as articulated by the utilities. A broad spectrum of benefits from renewable energy and CDG specifically were raised including project participation for underserved market segments, reduced energy burden on low-income utility customers, avoided social and public health costs, added grid resiliency, offsetting of current pollution, displacing the need for current and future polluting facilities, clean energy job creation, and meeting state and local climate targets.

When the final VDER order came out in March 2017, it included a directive to DPS staff to explore and address low-income participation in CDG. Low-income issues, and environmental justice considerations concurrently, were thus rolled into the VDER proceeding. However, the Phase 1 implementation of VDER did not include any mechanisms to support the participation of low-income customers in a CDG project. After a push on the part of advocates, DPS staff took up the issue during Phase 2 of VDER implementation. To that end, the VDER Phase 2 proceeding was broken up into three working groups to develop recommendations for staff around Value Stack, Rate Design, and Low to Moderate Income issues, respectively. Many advocates and stakeholders that had been calling for thoughtful process and substantive policies around low-income inclusion and environmental justice joined the LMI Working Group with the understanding that this was the appropriate venue to reiterate actionable recommendations and see meaningful movement.

On the contrary, it was clear from the outset of the LMI Working Group that the basic underlying assumption driving Staff’s facilitation of this work was that CDG would not work for low-income customers in its current iteration and that environmental justice concerns were outside the scope of their work. Despite the formation of a broad ad hoc coalition of sixteen groups participating in the LMI Working Group—the “Aligned Parties”121—and the development of robust written recommendations in a proposal shared with key DPS Staff as well as filed on the docket that would fix CDG policies so that they could work for low-income households, DPS Staff indicated such issues were outside the scope of the proceeding.

The LMI Working Group functioned for approximately six months between June and December 2017 and culminated in a Staff Report on Low-Income CDG that put forth policy and programmatic recommendations that had largely not been discussed within the Working Group collaborative process.122 The Staff Report further declined, for the most part, to make recommendations around the policy proposals that had been put forth by consensus by a majority of the participating parties. The opportunity to discuss programming related to low income customer participation in CDG seemed to be closed at this point, and the LMI Working Group was dismantled with no clear commitments to specifically take up any of the recommendations by the Aligned Parties or in the Low-Income CDG Staff Report to once and for all meaningfully remedy a serious lack of access by low-income households to CDG projects.

With respect to environmental justice issues, the Low Income CDG Staff Report suggested that the VDER Phase 2 Value Stack Working Group take up the topic as it likely required a quantitative analysis of environmental justice values to be included in the VDER value stack calculation.123 However, there was a great deal of confusion as to exactly what steps the Value Stack Working Group needed to take and whether EJ values would even be discussed at all in that venue. At the urging of stakeholders at a Value Stack Working Group meeting, Staff allowed the formation of a “subgroup” to further examine environmental justice considerations in VDER and CDG. However, this subgroup was not afforded necessary resources to properly undertake this work and was largely self-organized and facilitated by advocates and academic experts. Through the generosity of pro bono support from economists at NYU’s Institute for Public Integrity, the group made some headway in what a valuation of avoided social and economic costs due to mitigated air pollution might look like within the VDER mechanism. Unfortunately, as this work was underway, participants in the subgroup were informed by Staff that there were no hard commitments on DPS’ part to gather input on these issues and incorporate them into a recommendation and approach, despite the time and resources being put into the effort by advocates and experts. This also spurred further confusion as to what exactly the mandate had been by the PSC in its initial CDG order to meaningfully explore issues related to low-income customers in accessing the benefits of the CDG framework.

The subgroup presented findings to Staff at a July 11, 2018, Value Stack Working Group meeting. Subsequently, Staff issued some limited fixes and recommendations for adjustments of the VDER mechanism through an order that boosted the value stack for certain projects in certain areas, though this was not with an emphasis on environmental justice considerations, rather was intended to address the viability of the CDG market on the whole, particularly in challenging utility service territories.124 While very necessary and welcome, these particular fixes did not get at the heart of incorporating the full scope of values from the transition to renewable energy resources for the state, low-income customers, and for environmental justice communities.

Separately from the CDG Order and VDER proceedings, the PSC also sought to study the broader dynamics of how low-income customers were served by utility programs, and commenced the Low-Income Affordability proceeding on a parallel track.125 This docket, and resulting PSC order, primarily addressed bill assistance programs for low-income customers and did not touch substantially upon the larger structural issues regarding energy affordability facing low-income customers, including expansion of access to energy efficiency and clean energy options. The proceeding resulted in a Commission Order issued in May 2016 calling for a goal of reducing the energy burden for all low-income New Yorkers to 6% or below and articulated the need for future coordination between agencies and programs to achieve this goal.126 The order also explicitly describes the potential for distributed energy resources (DER) to help bridge the affordability gap, which indicated that eliminating barriers to access to CDG projects and other DERs for low-income customers could and would be prioritized in Commission policy and state programming moving forward.127

Another related proceeding that ran in parallel to the CDG and VDER proceedings that addressed particularized concerns for low- and moderate-income customers was the Uniform Business Practices for DER proceeding. This proceeding essentially sought to establish the consumer protection measures in place for customers purchasing energy from DER projects (including as subscribers to CDG projects). Given that the CDG Order would now allow for the sale of new kinds of energy products to consumers, the PSC wanted to ensure that the market would not become plagued by predatory practices that had occurred in the past with new fangled energy services being offered to low-income customers.128 The preliminary order that resulted from this proceeding laid out a number of requirements for DER/CDG providers including registration, mandatory customer agreement contract provisions, billing and payment processing, and customer information.

Takeaways from CDG/VDER Proceedings for Energy Justice Objectives

Procedural Considerations

  • Policymakers should articulate clear avenues for influence and input by stakeholders and how that input will concretely be considered and incorporated. This allows those participating in the regulatory proceeding to formulate strategies to be most effective in informing, educating, and advocating for policies that address their concerns.
  • Process for process’ sake is not meaningful for stakeholders, particularly those newly at the table and most impacted by potential outcomes. Advocates and experts do not want to waste their time on a symbolic public process as they typically have to make difficult decisions as to allocation of staff and organizational time and resources.
  • Participants in a regulatory proceeding may consider requesting more detailed information from policymakers regarding process and timeline for a particular issue and how input will be considered. This could serve two purposes: one, it may encourage policymakers to think through that question when they haven’t previously considered it (and staff proceedings accordingly) and two, it may allow participants to pick and choose where they put time and resources.

Substantive Policy Considerations

  • Policy and value judgments as to what gets “counted” in the value stack for the purposes of determining the value of distributed renewable energy generation need to be discussed honestly and openly. These values-based conversations are a reflection of deeper beliefs about priorities and problems in the energy sector that have to be addressed prior to technical research, analysis, and economic modeling.
  • New York, and other states considering similar reforms, needs to better grapple with the idea of the “prosumer” and the move from a utility model that bifurcates generators and consumers to one where they may (and in some cases should) be the same entity. Recognize that this necessarily requires a change in the fundamental business model of investor-owned utility energy distribution, that there is a natural tension given the economic interests of investor-owned utilities and the desire of consumers to become prosumers, and address what new models may look like that address these potentially divergent interests.
  • It is important to balance innovation in new models for distributed energy generation development and their accompanying increased access for new customers/generators with consumer protection considerations. Those seeking to access clean energy generation, whether through rooftop solar on their own homes or through a community solar subscription, deserve robust protections against predatory practices. Such consumer protection policies should be well tailored to address potential problems without creating conditions that effectively render such projects infeasible. This is a real challenge and an area where much more attention and nuance should be afforded by policymakers.
  • Decisionmakers should regularly check back in with the guiding principles behind the opening of a particular proceeding and make sure that the proposed solutions map onto those goals at every step. It is easy to get lost in the weeds and end up with “solutions” to entirely different or non-existent problems.
  • Participants in a regulatory proceeding should be prepared to not only provide input and recommendations related to the communities they seek to represent but also to counter anticipated arguments that may come up in opposition to such recommendations. Often, policymakers and more traditional participants have certain preconceived notions going into a proceeding on a particular issue – a more productive process may result if those assumptions can be addressed up front before development of new ideas and solutions.

Application of Energy Justice Scorecard Metrics to New York REV Case Study

Having provided a detailed background of the context in which REV came about as well as certain substantive policy mechanisms included within it that speak particularly well to energy justice principles, below we provide an application of the Energy Justice Scorecard to New York’s CDG policy. The goal is to provide an illustrative example of the use of the Scorecard that may facilitate its use in other policy contexts in service of energy justice and energy democracy movements in other states.

(1) Process: Have marginalized communities participated meaningfully in the policymaking process with sufficient support?

Score: 4 – Mostly yes. In terms of process, frontline communities were able to participate in the CDG and VDER dockets at the Public Service Commission. This included participation in various stakeholder and working group meetings with the PSC, submission of written testimony to the docket, and more targeted meetings with relevant policymakers to discuss matters of concern to frontline communities in particular. Whether such participation would be considered meaningful by the representatives of frontline communities in the PSC proceeding is likely where the debate would lie. To the extent that meaningful participation connotes consideration of the input by relevant policymakers, participants representing frontline communities likely felt that certain recommendations were not given the same consideration by policymakers as those of more traditional participants in energy regulatory proceedings (i.e., utilities, large NGOs). That being said, some informal avenues, in addition to the more formalized input in the regulatory context that tended to be dominated by traditional participants, were created for stakeholders to work with policymakers to develop strategies and solutions addressing issues in the energy justice realm.

(2) Restoration: Does the policy aim to remedy prior and present harms faced by communities negatively impacted by the energy system?

Score: 3 – Somewhat. New York’s CDG policy, in its current form, appears to be largely forward looking by seeking to address energy-related burdens for low-income and environmental justice communities in the future through CDG and other forms of renewable energy development in those communities and for those marginalized customers. Attempts at including an “environmental justice” component in the value stack as part of VDER that would allow for additional incentives for project development that serves communities that have been harmed in the past by the fossil fuel industry did not have much traction with policymakers, due to cited concerns related to implementation in a fair and effective manner.

(3) Decision-making: Does the policy center the decision-making of marginalized communities?

Score: 2 – A little bit. The concept of providing not just affordable, clean energy to traditionally excluded populations but also providing avenues for agency and meaningful decision-making related to the production of that energy did not have much traction with policymakers. Some attempts were made to develop a program that would allow for low-income subscribers to a project an avenue to eventually buy an ownership interest and thereby have some agency and decision-making power. This particular proposal did not end up being further developed and the program remained one that would facilitate low-income subscribers to a community solar project but did not provide ownership opportunities for those subscribers or facilitate capacity-building for more localized organizations to play a developer or sponsor role.

(4) Benefits: Does the policy center economic, social, or health benefits for marginalized communities?

Score: 2 – A little bit. Not currently, but may in the future. Despite rigorous attempts on the part of advocates and academics to quantify and include such a component in the value stack for VDER that would capture public health, economic, and other social benefits of the deployment of clean, affordable energy through a community solar project, the value stack currently does not include such a targeted component.

(5) Access: Does the policy make energy more accessible and affordable to marginalized communities?

Score: 3 – Somewhat. Theoretically yes, but unclear if so in practice. New York’s CDG policy framework, in its current iteration, should allow for expanded access to renewable energy for those unable to install and benefit from renewable energy generation on property they own, as it allows for a bifurcation between owner/developer and recipient of the energy generation benefits. However, the most substantial barriers to access and affordability under the policy are (1) the lack of adequate monetary incentives that allow projects that serve low-income subscribers to pencil out and (2) lack of capacity building oriented programs and funding such that local organizations or organized groups of local residents may be able to play a sponsorship role in a project thereby increasing the benefits they receive as a result of the project (the economic benefits of asset ownership as compared to the more limited economic benefits of purchasing units of energy).

Energy Justice Scorecard: New York Community Distributed Generation Program

Scoring Key: 1 (No), 2 (A little bit), 3 (Somewhat), 4 (Mostly), 5 (Yes)

Question Score Explanation Reference
(1)  Process: Have marginalized communities participated meaningfully in the policymaking process with sufficient support?


Mostly yes. Frontline communities were able to participate in dockets at the NY PSC, but it is questionable if they were meaningfully heard.

Party comments can be found here.129

(2)  Restoration: Does the policy aim to remedy prior and present harms faced by communities negatively impacted by the energy system?


Somewhat. New York’s CDG policy seeks to address energy-related burdens for low-income and environmental justice communities, however does not include environmental justice components in the value of solar.

(3)  Decision-making: Does the policy center the decision-making of marginalized communities? 


A little bit. The concept of providing avenues for agency and meaningful decision-making related to the production of energy did not have much traction with policymakers.

(4)  Benefits: Does the policy center economic, social, or health benefits for marginalized communities? 


Not currently, but may in the future. Despite advocacy to quantify and include public health, economic, and other social benefits of a solar project, the value stack currently does not include such components.

(5)  Access: Does the policy make energy more accessible and affordable to marginalized communities? 


Somewhat. Theoretically yes, but unclear if so in practice. The policy should allow for expanded access but benefits may go to developers and there are various barriers to access and affordability.



Section 3.3 – Lessons from Community Energy Case Studies

The case studies offer three key lessons for community energy policies consistent with energy justice:

  1.  community participation in policy development and program design;
  2.  energy pricing and valuation structures that make projects viable and attractive to customers and developers; and
  3.  sustainable business models that enable community decision-making and control over customer-generated energy resources while balancing the need to target priority customers and provide consumer protection.

Lesson 1: Community Participation

In both the California and New York contexts, community participation was a crucial element. Adequate community participation requires that voices are engaged, heard, and genuinely responded to. For example, while stakeholders in New York felt as though the final outcome did not tie back to overarching goals and community input, to some degree California’s CSGT program represents progress in soliciting comments from community representatives on overarching goals and referencing those goals later on during the process.

Lesson 2: Pricing and Valuation

Both the California and New York programs struggle with pricing solar in their community energy policies. First, at a basic level, the pricing structure is a threshold issue that will determine if any projects are economically viable under the policy. The outcome in New York appears to have provided more certainty that at least some projects can get built, while that is a matter still to be determined in California. Second, the valuation of energy from certain types of projects is also a potential driver for equitable non-energy benefits such as public health, community wealth, and other social benefits. However, both California and New York have yet to include value adders or incentives for those projects that drive more community benefits than other projects.

Lesson 3:  New Business Models    

The case studies present lessons on developing and transitioning to sustainable business models for community self-generation of renewable energy. First, these experiences highlight the need to adapt the conventional utility model of centralized energy production sold as a commodity to customers to one where individuals and communities have agency, governance, and decision-making around their own production of clean energy. Second, considering equity means both ensuring that programs include and provide benefits to specific target customer groups such as low-income households, while ensuring protection from deceptive business practices.

Reflection on Using the Energy Justice Scorecard for Community Energy Policy

Applying the Energy Justice Scorecard to this arena highlights a key balancing issue in the community energy realm: How can community energy policy prioritize robust benefits for traditionally marginalized utility customers while also making community energy projects feasible for development? Questions 1-4 help to analyze the inclusivity of process and benefits, while question 5 demonstrates the importance of project feasibility. If projects cannot get built, no one will see purported benefits. But without meaningful community participation and evaluating disparate historical harms and present burdens, projects could get built in ways that further exacerbate inequities.

The Scorecard questions help to identify underlying elements that should be considered in designing an equitable community solar policy: 

(1) Process: Have marginalized communities participated meaningfully in the policymaking process with sufficient support?

  • In the community energy context, this could be analyzed in regards to legislative policymaking, but is more likely to have more applicability in terms of regulatory policymaking in a state-level public service/utility commission proceeding. However, this could also occur at the municipal level or through a utility’s own internal process in some cases.
  • Key considerations include whether accessibility, income, language, or other barriers are addressed to ensure community members can participate; whether there is financial compensation for time spent contributing to the policymaking; and whether the ultimate policy decision-makers have an obligation to respond to public comments and state why they have or have not been addressed.
  • Public understanding of the terms and concepts being used in a policymaking forum is critical for meaningful engagement, so key concepts should be explained via print, online, and/or in-person meetings, including virtual net energy meeting, tariffs, power purchase agreements, and procurement mechanisms.

(2) Restoration: Does the policy aim to remedy prior and present harms faced by communities negatively impacted by the fossil-fuel based energy system?

  • A key mechanism for ensuring such harms are considered is a mapping tool based in large part on disparate pollution burdens, such as the CalEnviroScreen tool developed by the California EPA. The US EPA has a similar tool, and various states are also developing their own. Such a tool can allow for geographic targeting of participation, benefits, and incentives.
  • A robust community solar policy would consider mechanisms for prioritizing projects that reduce pollution in these neighborhoods (such as by reducing demand for nearby fossil-fuel plants) in addition to other community benefits from renewable projects.

(3) Decision-making: Does the policy center the decision-making of marginalized communities?

  • The policy should promote community self-determination, governance, and agency through cooperative ownership or control of renewable energy assets. Moreover, it should support the efforts of community-based organizations that serve marginalized populations to advance energy democracy for their communities.
  • Policy mechanisms such as application prioritization, financial adders, and other incentives can promote equitable community-based projects.

(4) Benefits: Does the policy center economic, social, or health benefits for marginalized communities?

  • The above questions build upon each other and lead to this focus on robust benefits to marginalized community beyond just renewable energy itself, in addition to prioritizing fossil-fuel harmed communities and community decision-making.
  • Equitable community solar policies can advance deep impacts with requirements and designs that advance meaningful bill savings; family-sustaining jobs training; community wealth-building and investment opportunities; cleaner air from avoided fossil fuel extraction and generation; reduced fires, costs, and power shutoffs from less reliance on transmission lines; and resilience from power outages through pairing solar with storage.

(5) Access: Does the policy make energy more accessible and affordable to marginalized communities?

  • As mentioned above, a fundamental issue here is ensuring that pricing and valuation structures making projects feasible and attractive both for developers (ideally community-based ones) and customers. In addition to compensation methods based on retail rates, programs could guarantee a certain amount of savings for customers, or payments to developers.
  • Many other mechanisms could be considered. Minimum participation requirements can ensure projects must include a certain percentage of low-income customers but should be balanced with economic incentives to make sure projects can still be financed and constructed. Various groups have developed new methods of evaluating the likelihood a customer pays bills, and more equitable approaches should be utilized as opposed to conventional credit checks. Allowing the limited participation of anchor commercial customers (such as schools, nonprofit organizations, or municipal customers) in a community solar project might make participation more accessible or affordable to residential customers.

Equitable Community Solar Framework

In light of the case study lessons and Scorecard-based analysis of community solar programs, the elements of good community solar policy becomes more clear. First, instead of simply defining community solar, we can propose a definition of what equitable community solar looks like. Equitable community solar (1) allocates energy and benefits from one solar system to multiple customers via viable economic incentives, (2) intentionally engages and centers participation of marginalized populations, and (3) prioritizes local community self-generation and ownership of energy resources.

The overall goal of an equitable community solar policy is the achievement of robust, justice-oriented impacts, as determined by an equitable process. In sum, from the advocacy, writings, and participation of environmental, economic, and social justice communities, such a process will likely identify, at a minimum, potential outcomes such as equitable economic, health, grid, resilience, and environmental benefits. As emphasized previously, local communities, advocates, and policymakers must go through as process of identifying goals, and then design a program to achieve them.

The definition of equitable community solar laid out above helps illuminate key program objectives for an equitable community solar policy that will ultimately lead to the overall goal of robust, justice-oriented impacts. And the high-level objectives give structure, direction, and purpose for underlying mechanisms in the policy design. Each element of the definition can be summarized generally into three objectives:

  1. Project Feasibility – allocates energy and benefits from one solar system to multiple customers via viable economic incentives
  2. Equitable Participation – intentionally engages and centers participation of marginalized populations
  3. Community Control – prioritizes local community self-generation and ownership of energy resources


Diagram 12: Equitable Community Solar Framework

The three program objectives can also be framed as: 1) can projects get built?, 2) are they designed to include marginalized communities?, and 3) are they designed to deliver robust economic, health, and social benefits by allowing communities to own and control energy resources? Or in other words: 1) can you build a table?, 2) who’s at the table?, and 3) who’s eating at the table?

By delving into the questions that the Energy Justice Scorecard asks, not only does it become evident that we can approach policies in such a way that advances both an equitable and rapid transition to renewables – we must. It is our moral imperative.


46 See Jason Coughlin et al., A Guide to Community Shared Solar: Utility, Private, & Nonprofit Project Development 3 (May 2012); David Feldman, et al, Shared Solar: Current Landscape, Market Potential, and the Impact of Federal Securities Regulation v (Apr. 2015).

47 See John Farrell, Report: Beyond Sharing – How Communities Can Take Ownership of Renewable Power, Instit. for Local Self-Reliance (Apr. 26, 2016),

48 S.B. 43, 2013 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Cal. 2013)

49 Assemb. B. 327, 2013 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Cal. 2013).

50 Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 2833(p).

51 The term “disadvantaged communities” was not defined in the statute, but is now commonly used in California energy policy to refer to communities facing higher pollution burdens and other vulnerabilities. Unless otherwise directed, the state typically uses the CalEnviroScreen, a tool created by the California EPA, to designated specific census tracts as disadvantaged communities.

52 Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 2827.1(b)(1).

53 Application of San Diego Gas & Elec. Co. (U902E) for Authority to Implement Optional Pilot Program to Increase Customer Access to Solar Generated Elec., No. 12-01-008 (Cal. Pub. Util. Commission Jan. 17, 2012); In the Matter of the Application of Pacific Gas & Elec. Co. (U39E) to Establish a Green Option Tariff, No. 12-04-020 (Cal. Pub. Util. Commission Apr. 24, 2012), and In the Matter of the Application of S. Cal. Edison Co. (U338E) for Approval of Optional Green Rate, No. 14-01-007 (Cal. Pub. Util. Commission Jan. 10, 2014) [hereinafter “SB 43 proceeding” or “A. 12-01-008, et al.”].

54 Proceeding Details R1407002, Cal. Pub. Util. Comm’n (July 10, 2014),,57,RIR:P5_PROCEEDING_SELECT:R1407002 [hereinafter “AB 327 proceeding” or “R. 14-07-002”].

55 Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 2831(g) (emphasis added).

56 See Cal. Pub. Util. Code §§ 2831(b),(f).

57 Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 2831(a).

58 Cal. Pub. Util. Code 2832(a).

59 Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 2833(d).

60 Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 2833(b).

61 Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 2833(d).

62 Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 2833(d)(1)(A).

63 Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 2833(j).

64 Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 2833(p).

65 Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 2833(e).

66 See Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 2831.

67 See Decision Approving Green Tariff Shared Renewables Program for San Diego Gas & Elec. Co., Pacific Gas & Elec. Co., & S. Cal. Edison Co. Pursuant to S. B. 43, Decision 15-01-051, No. 12-01-008, No. 12-04-020, No. 14-01-007 (Cal. Pub. Util. Commission Jan. 29, 2015) [hereinafter “Decision 15-01-051”].

68 See Decision Addressing Participation of Enhanced Community Renewables Projects in the Renewable Auction Mechanism & Other Refinements to the Green Tariff Shared Renewables Program, Decision 16-05-006, No. 12-01-008, No. 12-04-020, No. 14-01-007 (Cal. Pub. Util. Commission May 12, 2016) [hereinafter “Decision 16-05-006”]. One lingering issue remained related to requirements for the developer of an ECR project to obtain a legal opinion on securities compliance.

69 See Decision 15-01-051.

70 See Decision 16-05-006.

71 See Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 2833(o).

72 Electric Power Monthly: Table 5.6.A. Average Price of Electricity to Ultimate Customers by End-Use Sector, U.S. Energy Info. Admin. (Oct. 24, 2019),

73 Electric Schedule E-ECR: Enhanced Community Renewables Program, Pacific Gas & Electric Company 3 (Oct. 1, 2019),

74 See A.12-01-008 SDG&E Monthly GTSR Report for May 2019 (June 24, 2019); A.12-01-008 PG&E Monthly GTSR Progress Report for May 2019 (June 25, 2019); A.12-01-008 SCE Monthly GTSR Program Progress Report for May (June 25, 2019).

75 The CPUC first required developers to submit a legal opinion from an “Am Law 100” law firm, that is, a law firm listed on the American Lawyer magazine’s list of the 100 law firms with the highest gross revenue. Decision 15-01-051 at 71; Decision 16-05-006 at 34. This requirement was later modified to be based on factors such as an attorney’s experience and the amount of liability insurance coverage held by the firm. Decision Modifying the AmLaw 100 Securities Opinion Requirement for Enhanced Community Renewables Projects Under the Green Tariff Shared Renewables Program in D.15-01-051, Decision 17-07-007, No. 12-01-008, No. 12-04-020, No. 14-01-007 (Cal. Pub. Util. Commission July 13, 2017).

76 See Cal. Pub. Util. Code § 2833(p) (“The commission shall ensure that charges and credits associated with a participating utility’s green tariff shared renewables program are set in a manner that ensures nonparticipant ratepayer indifference for the remaining bundled service, direct access, and community choice aggregation customers and ensures that no costs are shifted from participating customers to nonparticipating ratepayers.”)

77 The “Am Law 100” is an annual list published by The American Lawyer.

78 Proceeding Details A1201008, Cal. Pub. Util. Comm’n (Jan. 17, 2012),,57,RIR:P5_PROCEEDING_SELECT:A1201008.

79 Assemb. B. 327, 2013 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Cal. 2013).

80 See Cal. Pub. Util. Code §2827.3(a) (requiring the CPUC to study costs and benefits associated with a net metering tariff); §2827.1(b)(3) (“Ensure that the standard contract or tariff made available to eligible customer-generators is based on the costs and benefits of the renewable electrical generation facility.”).

81 Under existing policy, California allows for multifamily buildings and adjacent properties to enroll in VNEM. The state’s VNEM rules for those properties were renewed in the first phase of the AB 327 proceeding when the standard NEM tariff was reauthorized. Both the NEM and VNEM tariffs were slightly modified from their first generation versions, but fundamentally retained the basic concept of on-bill retail rate compensation for rooftop solar generation.

82 See Vote Solar, SEIA, & CalSEIA Opening Proposal, R.14-07-002 (Apr. 24, 2017).

83 See CEJA SELC Opening Proposal, R.14-07-002, 2, 11 (Apr. 24, 2017). The main incentives along the lines of location, size, and ownership proposed in Equity VNEM were providing a slightly higher bill credit for (about 2 cents/kWh compared to DAC VNEM) to “community-based projects” defined as (1) “located within the same or an adjacent DAC census tract as all customers,” (2) having a generating capacity which does not exceed 1 megawatt, and (3) being majority owned or controlled by the residents of disadvantaged communities or a nonprofit or government entity.

84 Alternate Decision Adopting Alternatives to Promote Solar Distributed Generation in Disadvantaged Communities, Decision 18-06-027, No. 14-07-002 at 56 (Cal. Pub. Util. Commission June 21, 2018).

85 Id. at 57.

86 Id.

87 Id. at 64.

88 Id. at 74.

89 Id. at 76-78.

90 Id. at 65 n. 40.

91 Id. at 73.

92 Id. at 16.

93 Id. at 66, 68.

94 See Id. at 75 (stating that the CSGT program “allows for local ownership of projects if feasible.” The CPUC declined to set requirements or incentives for community ownership, instead leaving “this to the market and communities to determine.”).

95 Id. at 72.

96 Id. at 74.

97 Id. at 76.

98 Id. at 86.

99 Id. at 77.

100 Id. at 78.

101 Id. at 79.

102 Id. at 82.

103 Id. at 65, 82.

104 Id. at 82.

105 Id. at 82.

106 Id. at 86.

107 Id. at 84.

108 Participants must be located within 5 miles for most projects, and with 40 miles for some select pilot projects in the San Joaquin Valley. Some commentators worry this limit may pose a challenge in finding enough customer or raise the cost of finding customers beyond what is economically viable for a profitable project.

109 Utilities will enter power purchase agreements for all of the energy produced by the CSGT projects if they select a project’s bid within biannual auctions. However, the price the utilities may pay for that energy is capped at 200% of the highest executed contract price in previous California renewable auctions for its Green Tariff program. It remains to be seen if the auction ceiling is high enough to allow projects to be built given the additional limitations and costs for such projects beyond other wholesale renewable projects.

110 R. 14-07-002.

111 New York State, Reforming the Energy Vision, (last visit Nov. 12, 2019).

112 The first iteration of the CDG policy was codified in the Order Establishing a Community Distributed Generation Program and Making Other Findings, Proceeding on Motion of the Commission as to the Policies, Requirements and Conditions for Implementing a Community Net Metering Program, Case 15-E-0082 (July 17, 2015) [hereinafter “CDG Order”].

113 The CDG Order included certain limitations on membership to a CDG project but explicitly kept it quite flexible to encourage project development in the nascent CDG market. For example, projects required a minimum of ten subscribers, each of whom could offtake up to 25kW of energy, and any large offtaker (or “anchor”) that had an energy demand exceeding 25kW could only offtake up to 40% of the total energy generated by the project.

114 Filings by the Joint Utilities, a coalition that includes included Central Hudson Gas & Electric, Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc., N.Y. State Electric & Gas Corp., Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., Orange & Rockland Util., Inc., and Rochester Gas and Electric Corporation, In the Matter of the Value of Distributed Energy Resources, Case 15-E-0751 (N.Y. Pub. Serv. Commission 2015).

115 Comments of the Joint Utilities on an Interim Successor to Net Energy Metering at 3–5, In the Matter of the Value of Distributed Energy Resources, Case 15-E-0751 ( N.Y. Pub. Serv. Commission Apr. 18, 2016).

116 More on the Berkeley Lab study available at:

117 Notice Soliciting Comments and Proposals on an Interim Successor to Net Energy Metering and of a Preliminary Conference, Case 15-E-0751, In the Matter of the Value of Distributed Energy Resources, Case 15-E-0882, Proceeding on Motion of the Commission as to the Policies, Requirements and Conditions for Implementing a Community Net Metering Program (Dec. 23, 2015).

118 CDG Order at 22.

119 Id. at 31.

120 Summary of the Collaborative Working Group Reports Regarding Community Distributed Generation for Low-Income Customers, In the Matter of the Value of Distributed Energy Resources, Case 15-E-0082 (N.Y. Pub. Serv. Commission Aug. 15, 2016), available at$FILE/15-E-0082%20Low%20Income%20Collaborative%20Report%208-15-16.pdf.

121 The Aligned Parties were comprised of the following organizations: Alliance for a Green Economy, Association for Energy Affordability, Azure Mountain Power, Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition, Citizens for Local Power, Ecogy Solar, Green Street Solar Power, LLC, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Pace Energy and Climate Center, ProjectEconomics, PUSH Buffalo, Solstice, Vote Solar, WE ACT for Environmental Justice.

122 Staff Report on Low-Income Community Distributed Generation Proposal, In the Matter of the Value of Distributed Energy Resources Working Group Regarding Low and Moderate Income Customers, Matter 17-01278, ( N.Y. Pub. Serv. Commission Dec. 15, 2017) [hereinafter “LMI Working Group Staff Report”].

123 LMI Working Group Staff Report at 33.

124 Whitepaper Regarding Future Value Stack Compensation Including For Avoided Distribution Costs, In the Matter of the Value of Distributed Energy Resources, Case 15-E-0751 (N.Y. Pub. Serv. Commission Dec. 12, 2018).

125 Proceeding on Motion of the Commission to Examine Programs to Address Energy Affordability for Low Income Utility Customers, Case 14-M-0565, (N.Y. Pub. Serv. Commission 2015).

126 Order Adopting Low Income Program Modifications and Directing Utility Filings at 3, Proceeding on Motion of the Commission to Examine Programs to Address Energy Affordability for Low Income Utility Customers, Case 14-M-0565 (May 20, 2016) [hereinafter Affordability Order].

127 Affordability Order at 7.

128 Specifically, low income households were the target of such practices after the regulation of the energy market in New York which resulted in the formation of many energy service companies (ESCOs). The ESCOs would engage in door to door sales, pitching potential customers on the opportunity to reduce their energy costs if they signed a contract with the company. Many of these contracts contained provisions that not only did not lower costs, but in fact in many cases resulted in sky rocketing utility costs for the customer. Significant litigation and regulatory reform resulted from the ESCO fiasco.

129 Matter Master: 15-00348/15-E-0082, New York State, (last visited Nov. 21, 2019).

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)

1) Science in HD. Low angle photo of men. Unsplash. accessed 5 December 2019.

2) Lim, Justin. Man holding solar panel on roof. Unsplash. accessed 5 December 2019.

3) Plenio, Johannes. Incandescent bulb on black surface. Unsplash. accessed 5 December 2019.