The Fight for California Solar is at a Boiling Point Posted on Jan 17, 2022

Guest Blog Post By Angela Lipanovich, Attorney & Founder of Estriatus Law

On January 13, 2022, the largest solar demonstration in U.S. history occurred in California. Approximately 3,000 people rallied to save Californians’ rights to own solar and the over 50,000 jobs in the state’s rooftop solar industry.  Simultaneously, a virtual meeting of the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) occurred during which people talked for over three hours in successive one minute speeches for and against rooftop solar. During this public comment period, numerous members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) read a script saying "rooftop solar jobs are dead end jobs.” The motivation of the IBEW behind creating the scrip and instructing its members to make the comments is that rooftop solar competes with IBEW utility jobs.

Rooftop solar is estimated to save homeowners and businesses $1.4 billion every year. That is $1.4 billion that the utilities will not make, every year. By taking this utility profit and giving it to California’s homeowners and small businesses, this is $1.4 billion that will be distributed to local communities, every year. Recently, the Federal government justified the child tax credit based on a policy that if the government gives money to a low income person they will spend it in their local community; conversely, if money is given to a wealthy person, they will save it and bank it outside of the local economy. Giving $1.4 billion to rooftop solar homeowners and small businesses, every year, should be continued by our government for the same policy reason. If the $1.4 billion that homeowners and small business could save is instead given to utilities and large corporations, every year, the money will be spent outside of our local communities. Or, worse, it will be lost during the next utility bankruptcy.

A false, leading argument made by pro-utility interests at the CPUC meeting is the humorous posit that charging rooftop solar owners additional fees will lower the cost of electricity for non-solar owners. Non-solar owners will not pay lower electric bills if solar owners are charged more. The motivation behind this utility scripted argument is that rooftop solar competes with utility profits.   

Local rooftop solar is the only policy solution that provides for energy resiliency and local financial equity. Utility scale power plants cannot meet either policy goal for California.

What is in the CPUC's Proposed Decision?

The CPUC is scheduled to vote on January 27th on its proposal for new solar net metering rules (NEM 3.0) that include a “grid access” fee of $8/kW of installed solar per month and other fees that would add between $50 to $80 per month to the electric bill of every home solar customer. The proposal would also reduce the value of bill credits for solar energy sent to the grid by about 80 percent. If adopted, the proposal would be the highest solar fee anywhere in the country, including states hostile to renewable energy. 

California’s utilities and the CPUC also proposed to change the rules for customers who have already signed contracts and purchased a solar system. Under the CPUC’s proposal, customers who installed solar under the NEM 1.0 and NEM 2.0 rules – which were guaranteed to be in place for 20 years when customers enrolled – would see their “grandfathering period” reduced to 15 years from the date they installed their system, after which they would go on NEM 3.0. Pro-utility interests are trying to get the CPUC to shorten this period even further to 8 years.

If the proposal is adopted by the CPUC on January 27th, the NEM 3.0 rules would go into effect upon submission of an interconnection agreement after May 28, 2022. 

How Does the Proposed Decision Need to be Changed? 

The CPUC should modify its Proposed Decision to encourage more adoption of rooftop solar statewide, including removing all fixed fees on solar owners. Imposing fixed charges only on customers who choose to install solar violates customers’ right to self-generate their own clean energy. Any dramatic, negative changes from California’s current NEM policy would reduce customer adoption of clean energy in California. A reduction in the length of the grandfathering period for existing solar customers hurts customers who made an investment in solar under rules that promised consistent policy for a set time period. Changing the existing NEM-1 and NEM-2 rules despite its 20-year commitment period will hurt customers and businesses and make the public lose trust in the CPUC.

TAKE ACTION

There are Six Ways that people can ask Governor Newsom and the CPUC to reject the proposed solar fees and retroactive changes to existing solar customers

  1. Provide a verbal comment directly to the CPUC Commissioners at the upcoming CPUC public meeting on January 27. Put this meeting information on your calendar so you have the login details when you need them: http://www.adminmonitor.com/ca/cpuc/voting_meeting/20220127/  Here are instructions for giving a comment to the CPUC: 
    • Dial in 15-20 min before 10 a.m to get into the queue for speaking. Public comments are among the first things on the agenda.
    • Call: 1-800-857-1917, passcode: 9899501#  (Spanish speakers: 1-800-857-1917, passcode: 3799627#)
    • Comments must not exceed 1 minute. Write your comments down and practice them out loud a few times.
  1. Email the CPUC (public.advisor@cpuc.ca.gov) and the Governor’s office (https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov40mail) voicing your opposition to the CPUC’s Proposed Decision and your support of rooftop solar.
  1. Call the Governor’s office to ask Governor Newsom to stop the CPUC’s Proposed Decision before it discriminates against existing and future solar customers 916-445-2841. His office is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT.  Here’s a sample of what you can say on behalf of rooftop solar: “My name is ___ and I live in ____. I am against slashing the value of rooftop solar. Nobody should pay a penalty for putting solar panels on their roof and California should be doing more, not less, to promote rooftop solar. Please get your Public Utilities Commission to revisit their draft rule so that rooftop solar can keep growing in California.”
  1. Tweet at the Public Utilities Commission and Governor Newsom (@californiapuc @GavinNewsom) using the hashtag #SaveSolar  By posting to the social media channel of your choice, you can show your support for California rooftop solar virtually. Tag Gov. Gavin Newsom to let him know that pro-solar policies are important to Californians. 
  1. Submit a letter to the editor of your local paper. Letters to the editor are quick, effective ways to get your voice published where your friends, neighbors and local leaders can see it. The more voices there are standing up for solar in local papers across the state, the more likely Gov. Newsom will act. Check out Environment California’s online letter to the editor tool to write and submit a letter to your local paper.  
  1. Magnify your impact by encouraging family and friends to participate. Your action can make a difference, but the more people we can get taking action, the better. If you can get friends to join you in participating, you can multiply your impact.