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Calif. Lawmakers Pass Legislation to Encourage Solar Installations Along Highways

The California Assembly recently passed legislation to encourage the installation of solar power infrastructure along California’s highways.

The bill, SB 49, which was authored by California State Sen. Josh Becker. The bill also passed a concurrence vote in the state Senate on Sept. 14 and is on its way to the California Gov. Gavin Newsom for him to sign into law.

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.

“It’s difficult to find land to build solar projects. Using available space along highways, as long as all safety measures are addressed, can be an excellent use of public, available land to address climate change,” said Barry Moline, executive director, California Municipal Utilities Association.  

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, said Environment California, an environmental group that sponsored the bill.

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, Environment California said.

A recent report by Environment California Research & Policy Center and the Ray found that Los Angeles, Ventura and San Diego counties together have nearly one gigawatt of potential roadside solar capacity.

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, the group said.

Environment California noted that in Augusta, Maine, just three roadside solar installations are expected to generate millions of dollars in revenue for the state over their lifetime.