SOMAH: Renters can’t be left behind in California’s clean energy transition

electric building

Earlier this year, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved the procurement of 11.5 gigawatts of power from renewable energy, the single largest capacity purchase ordered. This mix of solar, wind, geothermal and long-duration energy storage will generate enough power for 2.5 million Californian homes. This “landmark order” aims to replace the power generating capacity from the central coast Diablo Nuclear Power Plant, scheduled for retirement in 2025, and the retirement of various natural gas plants without adding dirty energy. This bold investment is a key step towards achieving California's statewide goal of producing 100% clean electricity by 2045.

 

This commitment from the CPUC comes at a time when venture capitalists are making new and big investments in clean energy technology for the first time since the mid-2000s. $17 billion was invested in climate-tech startups in 2020, this time focusing on scaling up maturing technologies with late-stage startups rather than seeding new technologies. The world is ready for renewable energy in a big way, and not a moment too soon.

 

As wildfires continue to rage throughout the northern part of the state, we’re reminded of the urgency of climate resiliency. Our communities require clean, dependable energy now to cope with climate disasters, and they need it now. And while large investments in utility-scale solar PV or offshore wind are critical towards curbing further environmental disaster, we must pay attention to who might be left behind in the clean energy transition, specifically low-income renters and communities of color.

 

Targeted programs like the Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) center California’s low-income renters to ensure that disadvantaged communities receive the direct economic and environmental benefits of clean energy on their roofs. These utility bills savings are especially critical now as the cost of consumer goods rises and unprecedented heat waves continue across the country. But beyond the financial, SOMAH seeks to empower disadvantaged communities through job training opportunities to join the new green workforce, tenant education programs that explain the benefits of going solar, and technical assistance to connect residents to energy efficiency, clean mobility and other energy-incentive programs. California and the nation are making large strides on the path to transforming our energy systems, but only in centering environmental justice communities can we move towards the equitable clean energy future our communities deserve.