Update October 7, 2023: Gov. Newsom signed SB49 into law.
The California Assembly, by a 79-0 vote on September 13, passed legislation to encourage the installation of solar power infrastructure along California’s highways. Environment California sponsored SB 49, which was authored by Sen. Josh Becker. The bill also passed a concurrence vote in the state Senate on Thursday evening and is on its way to the governor’s desk for him to sign into law.
“California needs to supercharge its deployment of solar panels and battery storage, and this bill takes advantage of some of the best places to do just that,” said Laura Deehan, Environment California’s state director. “We must think creatively to quickly utilize available spaces to build solar panels. Using the land along highways will help us speed toward a future powered by 100% clean energy in California.”
SB 49 would direct state agencies to evaluate the potential for solar energy, battery storage and transmission infrastructure alongside highways to help California meet its clean energy targets — generating 90% of the state’s power by 2035 and 100% by 2045.The bill will establish a process for entities to operate and build this renewable energy infrastructure within state-owned rights-of-way.
“California can benefit immensely by harnessing the full potential of its rights-of-way,” said David Peters, The Ray’s Western Regional Manager. “The underutilized space along highways is an ideal asset for generating clean energy, and this bill will further display the significant solar energy potential those roadsides would provide for California.”
The bill’s most recent amendments in the Assembly Appropriations Committee removed the provision to create a strategic plan for solar along highways and set specific goals for roadside renewable energy generation, but the bill will still go a long way toward unlocking the state’s roadside solar potential.
“SB 49 will help build a cleaner future in California by catalyzing renewable energy development along highways,” said state Sen. Josh Becker (Menlo Park). “The bill is a win-win-win: It will get much-needed renewable energy built, support clean energy jobs and earn the state some extra revenue in the process.”
California has more than 52,000 lane miles in its state highway system and more than 23,000 lane miles of federal interstate highways, freeways and expressways. The evaluation required by SB 49 should identify a substantial number of potential solar sites along these highways. A recent report by Environment California Research & Policy Center and the Ray found that Los Angeles, Ventura and San Diego counties together have nearly 1 GW of potential roadside solar capacity, enough to power more than 270,000 homes in these three counties.
In addition to accelerating California’s clean energy build-out, SB 49 can also potentially mean more money in state coffers from lease fees, sales of the generated energy and lower maintenance costs. This isn’t just speculation. In Augusta, Maine, just three roadside solar installations are expected to generate millions of dollars in revenue for the state over their lifetime.
“We thank Speaker Robert Rivas and all the members of the Assembly who voted for this important legislation,” said Steven King, Environment California’s clean energy advocate. “We’re now closer to powering California with 100% clean energy with the help of solar along highways.”
News item from Environment California