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Commentary: Another misstep by the California Public Utilities Commission

By David Rosenfeld

Despite being created to regulate investor-owned utilities, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)  proposed a giveaway to utilities that would boost their profits at the expense of the average person, family-supporting jobs, and California’s clean energy promises.

The giveaway came in the form of a proposed decision to slash net metering, the policy that makes it possible for solar energy to be affordable and accessible for all Californians.

The proposed decision claims to back equity and inclusion — but the math doesn’t add up.

A $57-a-month solar penalty fee for Californians, the highest in the country.

A slashing of export credits for all solar users, including schools and churches. A reduction in protections for existing solar customers by five years.

If the CPUC values equity, why would they gut the very program that has helped solar reach around half of middle- and working-class neighborhoods?

If they value inclusion, why would they make it more expensive, not less, for those moving into new homes?

Why would they privilege utility greed over hundreds of thousands of local, skilled jobs, in the aftermath of a global pandemic?

It’s not like this utility-backed proposal is popular. Recent polling shows a super-majority of 80 percent of voters across parties support net metering and 85 percent of voters want to see California either maintain its current commitment or do more to encourage and expand rooftop solar across the state.

What’s at stake?

Energy affordability and tens of thousands of jobs and local small businesses all around the state.

Gutting net metering also raises the question of whether California politicians are actually committed to their promises to reduce air pollution and increase renewable energy — or if these too are just empty pledges intended to pander to voters.

The math is clear — California simply cannot meet its clean energy goals without a deep commitment to growing rooftop solar.

Less rooftop solar, also means more utility-scale solar developments, which negatively impacts vulnerable open spaces and wildlife habitats.

They’re also more expensive than rooftop solar, but also more profitable for utilities. Are the politicians doing the math on their “green” promises, or simply the math for the utilities’ bottom line?

In a state grappling with wildfires and constant energy crises, we need to ensure our families, schools, and neighbors can access reliable, resilient, and affordable energy — not pay the price for outdated, unwieldy electric grids. ‘

Making rooftop solar more expensive for working people is incompatible with much of Governor Newsom’s agenda — lower energy bills, an end to blackouts, and a clean energy future.

The fight is not over for solar advocates. Consumers, affordable housing advocates, faith leaders, environmentalists, conservationists, climate activists, and solar workers and small businesses will continue calling on the CPUC and Governor Newsom to stop the utility profit grab and keep solar growing in California.   

This fight boils down to the values that make our state great.

The big utilities want to protect their control over energy to protect their billions in profit.

Our diverse coalition of solar advocates want equitable energy—where people are free to generate and distribute their own energy in more affordable ways.

We will continue pushing for an energy system that values people over the utilities.

The sun belongs to everyone. Power from the sun should too.

David Rosenfeld is executive director at Solar Rights Alliance