Release: Bill to support solar power along highways passes out of California Senate

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California Senate, by a unanimous 40-0 vote Thursday, passed legislation to site solar power infrastructure along California’s highways. SB 49 was authored by Sen. Josh Becker and sponsored by Environment California. The bill will next move to the relevant state Assembly policy committees.

“In this polarized environment, it’s inspiring to see such strong bipartisan support behind such a commonsense renewable energy solution,” said Steven King, Environment California’s clean energy advocate. “We must think creatively to quickly utilize open spaces to build all the solar panels we need to generate 100% clean energy. Using the space along highways will help us speed towards a cleaner, brighter future in California.”

SB 49 would repurpose already-developed spaces along freeways as sites for solar panels. The bill would have California devise a strategic plan to lease land in rights-of-way to developers of renewable energy generation, energy storage and transmission lines. It would call on the Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to analyze how much of this space is suitable for solar power infrastructure and set targets for the amount of solar developed on leased land by 2030 and 2045. 

“We need to build huge quantities of solar to get to our 100% clean energy goal and we need transmission to deliver it to our cities,” said Sen. Becker. “By siting some of that solar and transmission in the unused land along our highways, we can make progress faster while reducing the impact on our agricultural land and conserving more of our open spaces. I thank my colleagues for their strong support of 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. Tapping the underutilized spaces along this vast network of highways will help California achieve its goal of generating 100% of its energy from clean sources.

“This bill will address the state’s shortage of renewable energy sources in a pragmatic and sustainable manner, said David Peters, western regional manager with The Ray. “Since our founding, The Ray has focused on helping states turn underutilized land along highway roadsides into productive energy resources. Given California’s clean energy goals and the increasing adoption of electric vehicles, identifying sites for renewable energy deployment should be a top priority for policymakers, especially sites the state already owns like highway rights-of-way. This bill could serve as a model for other states looking to take the next step in identifying alternative uses for their rights-of-way.”

In addition to accelerating California’s clean energy build-out, SB 49 can also generate significant revenue for the state through lower maintenance costs and lease fees. A 2020 University of Texas study found that putting solar on just California’s interchanges and highway exits could generate an estimated value of $330 million per year. 

“We thank Sen. Josh Becker, Senate President Toni Atkins and all the members of the Senate who voted for this important legislation today,” concluded King. “Their ‘ayes’ put us closer to powering California with renewable and increasingly affordable solar energy.”