One of the big pieces of a future that makes sense is an energy system that involves clean power, less waste, more intelligence, and a wider distribution of economic benefits. (Think locally owned solar panels hooked into a smart grid.) I lump all that under the term “distributed energy” and have been making fitful efforts to track some of the battles going on around it.

The latest episode is a sad one. Last year in California, state Sen. Lois Wolk (D) set out to tackle a pretty simple problem: Access to distributed energy (mostly rooftop solar panels) is restricted to those who can afford it and own a suitable roof. About 75 percent of Californians don’t fall into that category — they either rent, don’t have the equity, or have a shaded or wrong-facing roof. That’s a huge market to be tapped.

So she put forward Senate Bill 843, which would allow customers in the service territories of the state’s three big investor-owned utilities — Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) — to “subscribe” to distributed energy projects (20 megawatts or less) anywhere in their territories. So, for instance, a condo co-op could get together and invest in a solar project covering a nearby parking garage. Or a congregation could get together and invest in panels for the top of their church. They would sign a contract with a solar developer and pay a monthly fee (wrapped into their power bill) for a portion of the energy produced. Under the legislation, up to 2 gigawatts of power could be financed this way across the state; no state money would be required.