California’s investor-owned utilities are preparing to spend up to $100 million this year bringing solar to low income buildings, with an expected launch of the Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) program this spring or summer, says Somah Program Administrator Chris Walker.
SOMAH is designed as a 10-year endeavor, with spending caps of $100 million per year to meet a goal of 300 megawatts. At least 51% of the system’s electric output must directly offset tenant load and be provided to tenants in the form of virtual net energy metering (VNEM) bill credits. Funding for the program will come from utility greenhouse gas (GHG) auction revenue.
“California is way out in front of other states with this low-income solar program, and it is unprecedented in scale. It will save on electricity bills for thousands of customers and will create jobs,” Walker says. Each project will include at least one or two solar job trainees from the host housing population; the program should train 3,750 workers over the lifetime of the program, he says.
The program is agnostic to the financing arrangement and to the solar technology, Walker says. “It’s an open market program,” he says. “We think that the average project will be about 80 kilowatts, and we’ll probably have to approve 400 projects per year to meet our eventual goal of 300 MW,” says Walker.
There also will be a community advisory council for the program, comprised of representatives from the low-income housing communities. “They will monitor the progress of the program and provide input; we want the prog accountable to the community it is meant to serve,” he says.
While many of the projects will include a Power Purchase Agreement as a financing mechanism, direct ownership, third-party tax partners and other models will be considered. The program administrator will help the property owners identify what sort of solar makes sense, and to help them identify a contractor, if need be. Contractors will be pre-qualified and listed on the program website.
The five investor-owned utilities in the state are preparing their budgets for the SOMAH program ahead of time. Pacific Gas & Electric, for example, increased its 2019 budget for the program to $37 million, according to a January filing with the CPUC. The other utilities in the program include Southern California Edison Company (SCE), San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), Liberties Utilities Company (Liberty), and PacifiCorp.
While exact timing for the rollout is not yet known, the first wave of projects should be completed this year. “The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) needs to vote a resolution to approve the program handbook and to implement a plan. We hope to have this approved soon,” says Walker, based in Oakland. While the program will have a virtual presence online, supported by four administrator non-profit companies, it will have a home address in San Diego.
The program has been a long time coming. It was created in 2015 by California Assemblymember Susan Eggman (District 13) who represents western San Joaquin County. The bill was modified and renamed in series of legislative rounds, taking final form in a December 2017 determination by the CPUC, Decision 17-12-022.
The program is administrated by a team comprised of the Association for Energy Affordability (AEA), the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE), and GRID Alternatives (GRID). This nonprofit team and its subcontractors, including the California Housing Partnership Corporation (CHPC), Rising Sun Energy Center and rotating community-based organizations, collectively form the SOMAH Program Administrator (SOMAH PA), responsible for the program in all IOU territories.
All projects are required to provide direct tenant economic benefits and be primarily constructed for the benefit of tenants. The program includes specific eligibility for projects sited in disadvantaged communities, as identified by CalEPA and the CalEnviroScreen.
There are also program requirements around energy efficiency and workforce development, including job training and local hiring. A third-party, Commission-directed program evaluation is planned in the year 2020 to assess program progress and impact.
The SOMAH administrator will publish and update the incentive budget for each IOU to the California Distributed Generation Statistics (CalDGStats) website (californiadgstats.ca.gov) based on each quarter’s GHG auction revenues, as soon as this information becomes available.
Apart from solar installation, the SOMAH program intends to be cross-linked with other California energy efficiency programs, so that a prospective solar customer can stack project components and incentives, Walker said. Energy storage, EV charging, and insulation projects are a few of the energy efficiency projects that might be included, he says.
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