Consumers Should Not Be Penalized From Buying Less Power From Their Utility Posted on Apr 11, 2019

An important bill just cleared its first major hurdle to becoming law in the State of California.  The Solar Bill of Rights (SB 288), a bipartisan bill co-authored by State Senators Weiner (D) and Nielsen (R), was the brainchild of a fairly new non-profit in California called the Solar Rights Alliance.  The Solar Rights Alliance (“SRA”) was modeled after the National Rifle Association (“NRA”) with the goal of putting the power to go solar in the hands of the consumers.

Yesterday, after a two and a half hour hearing the California Senate Energy Committee approved the Solar Bill of Rights by a vote of 11 to 0, so the bill now begins its way through at least a five step long process before it can become law.  Each step of the bill’s way through potential passage is expected to be met by fierce utility opposition, which has already begun with daily lobbying by utility lobbyists through California’s State Capitol.

So, what is the Solar Bill of Rights and why is it so important?  At its essence, the Bill simply provides that everyone has the right to make and store solar energy for themselves by installing a solar system on their home or business without interference from the utility.  The bill protects solar consumers from being discriminated against by their local utility with unfair charges.  However, what seems like a simple right to be guaranteed to all citizens is being met by deeply-entrenched utility viewpoints that utilities are essentially paying for citizens to have the right to go solar.  The utility’s arguments are in fact simple too: They argue that they are subsidizing solar system owners because they must credit the system owners at a higher rate than they can purchase electricity for in the wholesale market.  The other common argument used by utilities is that climate change can only be stopped by a much faster shift to renewables than the distributed solar market can provide.  Albeit convincing in some respects, the utility’s arguments fail when taken as a whole. 

Consumers should not be penalized for buying less power from their  utility, whether it is an IOU or a locally owned CCA, as is becoming more frequently the case. The right to make your own power on your own property should be a guaranteed fundamental freedom that cannot be interfered with by utilities, especially utilities that are responsible for wildfires, blackouts, bankruptcies, political wranglings and budget-busting electricity prices. It should be illegal to take away the power of consumers to do their part to solve the climate change crisis. 

The next steps of getting the Solar Rights Bill across the finish line will undoubtedly be met by continued, aggressive and misleading arguments by a slew of utility industry lobbyists. In May, the California Senate Appropriations Committee will be the first committee that must approve the bill. Then, a California Senate floor vote will be required. Unlike the NRA which has about a $5 million annual budget to spend on lobbying efforts and raises almost half a million a year in membership dues, program fees and other contributions, the SRA is going to be greatly dependent on a much smaller budget and group of advocates to accomplish what should essentially be a no-brainer basic right for every citizen: the right to make and store your own solar energy. 

The outcome of whether the Solar Bill of Rights becomes law in California is important to every state in the nation given that California is often looked at as policy leader nation-wide.  In fact, there is no reason that the Solar Bill of Rights could not be used as a blueprint for a Federal law negating the need to go state to state to pass such basic protections for citizens.  If you want to get involved to support the Solar Rights Alliance important work on this bill, you can find more information here: About the Solar Bill of Rights.