What Senate Bill 700 Could Have Been… And Can Still Be

by Anna Gretz
July 12, 2017
Home Battery

SB 700, a new bill that would establish a new Energy Storage initiative in California recently disappeared from the state Assembly agenda without so much as a vote. How long will lawmakers have to wait before pushing the bill forward a second time? This delay is met by huge disappointment by energy storage advocates, and energy savvy homeowners in California.

So what happened? And what’s next for California’s storage-focused legislation?

First, let’s talk about the revolutionary initiative SB 700 would have started… and maybe still can.

From the start, SB 700 seemed to be headed straight for success. Back in April, the California Senate committee cleared the bill, putting some major wind in the sails of supporters and energy storage advocates. The bill itself authorized rebates for the installation of energy storage systems, and would require utilities to actually collect funds from their ratepayers to establish a new Energy Storage initiative (reverently referred to as ESI) that would work alongside the Self Generation Incentive Program (famously known as SGIP) to jump-start California’s already thriving Energy Storage status. 25% of the funds collected for the ESI would be given to low income neighborhoods and job training programs, leveling the playing field for solar adoption. Sounds pretty awesome, right? Yeah, we thought so, too.

Past incentives, like SGIP (read more about SGIP here) have already boosted California into the top spot in the nation’s energy storage market. SB 700 was introduced to fill a gap in incentive programs--one that would encourage solar power installations to team up with battery storage. Both homeowners and large businesses alike have been catching on to the huge benefits of solar-plus-storage systems, and SB 700 would have been able to put many more of these systems on the map. Basically, the bill was another way that California was showing the nation how to encourage the successful adoption of both solar and energy storage, and many people thought it was a great way to do it.

One of those people is Ben Airth, a board member of the California Solar Energy Industries’ Association.

“To maximize the benefits of combined solar-plus-storage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, policymakers must continue the path of establishing appropriate price signals grounded in good utility rates and tariffs along with clear and transparent interconnection rules,” quoted Airth. Yeah, Ben, we’re with you. We think clear, affordable solar-plus-storage installations are an awesome idea, too.

Ben Airth had more to say: “But they also must deploy properly designed market transformation programs that effectively reach all businesses and residents, particularly low-income customers who pay a higher percentage of their total income toward their energy bills than other population segments.” This is where SB 700 got very interesting, and introduced a unique component not seen before in other energy incentive bills. Even though the continuous drop in affordability of solar panels and lithium-ion batteries has opened up the possibility of rooftop solar and storage installations to a wider population, lower income families still pay a much higher percentage of their overall monthly wealth to utilities than anyone else, making it difficult for them to free up the funds to invest in energy reliability, security, and efficiency (like solar-plus-storage systems.) SB 700 would not only help lower-income households tap into solar and home battery storage, but, in Airth’s words, it would “improve the stability of the power grid and ultimately help Californians to take more control of their energy usage.”

In other words, the SB 700 bill was looking at the big picture.

California has long been invested in a clean energy future, and the distribution of the electrical grid. Setting up incentives for the adoption of solar and energy storage systems is one way to work toward that overall goal. California’s current renewable energy status shows that incentive programs do work, and though working to develop and pass a bill like SB 700 takes a lot of effort, and the process of adopting and enacting it takes even more, it would be well worth the investment in the long run.

Unfortunately, the California Senate Assembly didn’t see it that way.

This month, after breezing through previous hearings, SB 700 came to a sudden halt. Though it was on the agenda for the most recent hearing in the California Senate Assembly’s Utilities and Energy Committee, it was taken off the agenda by the committee chair, despite the protest of its supporters.

Being taken off of the agenda doesn’t kill the bill entirely however, but Assembly rules state that it can’t be reintroduced or passed until the legislative session next year. Taking the bill off of the schedule without a vote has left some advocates, supporters, and stakeholders understandably ticked off.

Chris Holden, the Utility and Energy Committee Chair, offered the explanation that the Utilities Commission has already ordered up a study on the growth of the energy storage market taking into account the current state policies, and that he, and others, want to see the results of that study before moving forward with SB 700. The author of the bill, Senator Scott Wiener, wasn’t happy with this explanation.

“The importance of a public hearing is that the public can see what’s going on,” Wiener said. “You can receive public comments on the bill, and members of the committee can make an informed decision to vote up or down.” Energy storage obviously has a good deal of support in California, and Winer thought it was only fair for the public to be able to take a look at the bill, and at least give some feedback. Many energy storage advocates were looking forward to voicing their support of a bill that would not only give a nod to the needs of lower income communities, but also would mean establishing a longer-term funding plan for energy storage, since SGIP is only slated to go through 2020.

Now, advocates, and the greater energy-focused community of California, are not sure what to plan on.

But here’s the thing: for decades, California has been moving in the direction of cleaner, more affordable renewable energy sources--not just for big businesses, but for the masses. Even though this is a temporary setback for many energy storage advocates, there is no reason to think that California, as a whole, is changing the direction they have been forging for so many years. Every year, SGIP improves, gearing more toward energy storage for all, and groups of renewable energy supporters introduce more creative ideas regarding how to incentivise the growth of renewables, and a more distributed power grid. We have seen in the past that adversity only encourages stronger advocacy, heightened creativity, and a renewed energy in support of the oppressed cause… which in this case, is energy itself.