The Climate Solutions Advocacy Institute (CSAI) is an educational and advocacy program that researches transformative climate solutions and legislation in university law and environmental science schools, and then builds widespread public awareness and grassroots support for these solutions.

We meet these challenges by using what we call evolutionary media advocacy – using the digital media revolution to transform the way people receive and share information, pivoting from a hierarchical, profit driven corporate media model to a decentralized people-powered system that facilitates transparency, accountability and integrity.

CSAI is a project of the educational 501(c)3 non-profit Informing to Empower, a non-partisan organization committed to building a stronger democracy.

CSAI’s first advocacy effort is focused on promoting the benefits of solar farms that are not connected to the transmission grid and their applicability in the electrification of transportation. The limited capacity of California’s electrical transmission grid is the primary reason that the rapid buildout of solar in the state is being stymied. Currently, so many solar projects have lined up for permission to access transmission lines that a backlog for approvals of up to eight years has formed. 

It will take decades, and hundreds of billions of dollars, for utility companies to upgrade and expand the transmission grid, but the climate crisis can’t wait. 

The straightforward solution to this problem, which we are advocating for, is to build solar farms which are not connected to the grid. Although not the only solution, this is an important market-financed solution that can be scaled up quickly and widely, starting tomorrow.

By 2045, as much as one half of the hundreds of gigawatts of solar capacity that will be required by electrifying transportation could come from off-grid solar farms, leapfrogging years of delays while saving ratepayers billions in transmission grid expansion costs.

In August, 2022, the University of California, Davis School of Law offered Law 285J – Drafting a Solar Farm Bill Practicum, to develop a white paper for a new Solar Farm Expansion Program.

In September, 2022, a concurrent practicum course, open to all UC Davis grad students, called “Revolutionary Organizing for Climate Solution Implementation” (ECO 290/CRN: 29643), was taught by CSAI’s co-founders Jonathan Greenberg and Anthony Wexler, as well as Colin Murphy, Deputy Director of UC Davis’ Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy.

Both classes researched and conducted direct outreach to numerous stakeholders, experts and organizations, to identify the challenges that have resulted in the deployment of only one-third the number of solar farms needed for the state’s carbon-free 2045 goals, as well as the most effective solutions to overcome these challenges.

CSAI’s collaborative law and environmental graduate practicum program was followed by an evolutionary media advocacy campaign to build support around a proposed transformative climate solution program focused on grid bypassing solar farms.

The REAL Initiative

After finding the CA state legislature facing nearly as much gridlock as the state’s electricity transmission infrastructure, CSAI and the stakeholders it consulted with determined that a citizen initiative ballot measure was the only way to bring solutions featuring decentralized energy forward. The result was the Renewable Energy Acceleration Law of 2024.

California’s Renewable Energy Acceleration Law of 2024 (REAL) would be the most impactful climate solution ballot initiative in history. It could double the deployment of new privately financed solar electricity generation, every year for the next 20 years, and allow California to reach its urgent goal of decarbonizing electricity and transportation by 2045.

REAL would update the California Public Utility Code to permit the “over-the-fence” sale of low cost solar power for a new generation of small solar family farms on agriculturally zoned land. These farms, up to 100 acres in size, would be permitted to sell the electricity that they generate to neighboring properties and rural EV charging stations within a two mile radius.

By legalizing the local sale of electricity for small grid-bypassing solar farms, REAL would leapfrog over the transmission capacity gridlock that has slowed the deployment of renewable energy in the state. REAL enabled solar family farms could attract as much as $2 billion a year of new investment, with 30% of that coming from federal government incentives.

REAL would advance climate equity in regions with some of the highest rates of asthma in the nation by powering rural EV charging stations to speed the replacement of heavy polluting diesel trucks and tractors, while also reducing hazardous dust on drought-fallowed farmland.

To qualify for the 2024 presidential election ballot, where it would likely pass, our new campaign needed to gather 600,000 signatures in six months, starting September, 2023.

What we found is that no group in California has successfully led a volunteer based signature gathering effort and that to put REAL on the ballot, we would need to hire a professional signature gathering company at a rate of roughly $7 million.

The REAL Bill

By December, 2023, despite our best efforts, it was clear that we wouldn’t be able to raise the funding necessary to bring REAL to the ballot. While the ballot measure was not viable, we still had a chance to make REAL a law if we could find a state legislator willing to sponsor it.  

We reached out to dozens of California state legislators in both the Assembly and Senate, including the most prominent and effective advocates for climate. Unfortunately , we heard the same thing again and again: bills that seek to change California’s PUC 218 “over-the-fence” rule are considered non-starters. The climate advisor of one of the leading climate Senators went as far as calling anything that changed the law a political third rail. Other legislators said that we would need a way to get past the opposition of the IBEW (the electrical workers union) and the big three investor-owned utilities.

Eventually, Senator Min’s office offered to submit REAL to the Legislative Counsel as an unbacked bill. This gave us another month to find a sponsor in the legislature and provided the benefit of having the bill’s text reviewed and revised by a Legislative Counsel attorney. We went through this process and the bill was improved from it, however we were still unable to find an assemblymember or senator to author the bill.

We knew when we started that it would be next to impossible to pass a bill like REAL in the legislature. That’s why we started REAL as a citizen’s initiative. The power of the PG&E and SCE and their allies in the IBEW are perceived as almost absolute in the backrooms of California’s legislature. This stranglehold has stymied the proliferation and commercialization of renewable distributed energy. As seen with the recent collapse of California’s solar industry following the utility captured CPUC decisions on solar tariffs, this stranglehold is a major barrier to California’s climate goals.

While REAL won’t become a law in 2024, we continue to work to implement its ideas.