By Miriam Raftery
Photo: rooftop solar, CC via Bing
January 21, 2022 (San Diego) – The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) unveiled a proposal on December 13 that would take away most financial incentives for homeowners or businesses to install solar power. But after backlash from outraged consumers and elected officials, the CPUC has postponed action.
The item was slated to be heard on January 27, but is not on the agenda, with changes likely.
The proposal, if adopted in its current form, would gut net metering provisions that let consumers sell solar back to the grid. It would cut by 80% the amount residents are paid for electricity generated from rooftop solar panels. It would also require hefty grid access charges of around $60 a month for an average solar customer.
The plan would apply to new solar customers. But solar advocates say it would remove incentives to go solar at a time when California aggressively seeks to encourage clean energy alternatives to slow climate change.
“The proposal will move us backward on clean energy and block many Californians’ ability to help make our grid more resilient to climate change,” says Susannah Churchill, western senior regional director for the political advocacy group Vote Solar, Associated Press (AP) reports.
Conservative and liberal politicians are both voicing opposition to the CPUC plan.
“The proposed changes would make it more expensive for people who want to go green by adding solar to the roofs of their homes and businesses. In fact, it is estimated that the new rules would cost a typical, solar rooftop-owning customer in the SDG&E service area just under $1,300 a year in new fees and higher rates,” Supervisor Joel Anderson, who represents many East County communities, wrote in an e-mail to constituents.
Anderson, a Republican, launched a petition that quickly gained 1,700 signatures opposing the CPUC proposal, which he calls a “bait and switch to people who invested in solar panels” that would discourage people from installing solar.
Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, told reporters when asked about the solar rate change plan during a budget press conference that he reviewed it and believes there is more work needed. “Do I think that changes need to be made? Yes, I do,” the Governor said.
The utility industry argues that solar customers aren’t paying their fair share for grid maintenance. Industry surrogate groups have launched ads on social media to push their views. One such group called Fix the Cost Shift has an ad on Facebook that states, “A flaw in state law is forcing Californians who can’t afford rooftop solar to subsidize wealthier homeowners who can. Seniors and families struggling to pay hundreds more each year in higher energy bills. Fix this unfair cost shift.”
But solar energy supporters contend that utilities are the ones motivated by greed, KPBS reports.
The solar industry reports that 1.3 million homes have added rooftop solar, creating 68,000 jobs since 2006, when the Million Solar Roofs measure was signed into law by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.