Thousands of Californians rally before utility commission to preserve rooftop solar

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A few months ago, public protest in San Francisco and Los Angeles led to the successful delay of California’s Net Energy Metering (NEM) 3.0. The proposal sharply cut payments made to solar owners for sending excess energy back to the grid to be used by their neighbors.

Renewable energy data firm EQ Analysts said the proposal would lead to a 57-71% overall reduction in solar savings for homeowners. At the time, grid controls expert and economist-at-large Ahmad Faruqui lambasted the proposed decision as a “proposed dystopia” and offered ten reasons why.

Recently, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) revisited the issue, and the revised NEM 3.0 is still packed with provisions to slash payments to homeowners and increase payments to utility companies. The revision replaced monthly fixed charges based on system sizes with new solar-unfriendly provisions, including a payment “glide path”, non-bypassable charges, and a tariff to boost community solar.

(Read: “Coalition received $1.7 million from three California utilities to push NEM 3.0, a rooftop solar ‘killer’“)

The “non-bypassable charges” provision would add $0.05/kWh to a customer’s bill, whether or not they have solar panels on their roof. These charges would apply to all end-use electricity, including the electrons generated by the customer’s rooftop solar array and delivered directly to their own homes. To place this in context, the average US customer pays about $0.13/kWh for electricity nationwide. Regulations make it very difficult, or even illegal, to disconnect from the grid entirely in many areas in California.

Governor Gavin Newsom and the CPUC are decision-makers here, and as such, they were addressed by thousands of solar-supportive Californians on June 2 in a public comment event. Many testified in front of the CPUC, arguing that the non-bypassable charges and other provisions were essentially a “tax on the sun.”

Organized by the California Solar and Storage Association, large crowds gathered in Los Angeles and before the CPUC building in San Francisco. Many gave public comment, and comment can be submitted online until June 10.

Citizens line up to give public comment at the California Public Utilities Commission.
Image: CALSSA
Image: CALSSA

Analysis by Environment California found that rooftop solar could prevent the development of 148,000 acres of land. This is based on a state regulator estimated deployment of 28.5 GW of rooftop solar through 2045 in order to meet clean energy goals. That is an area about half the size of Los Angeles that could be preserved versus a utility-scale-only model.

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) reports the U.S. solar industry employs about 230,000 workers, and 68,000 or more are employed in California. Over one million homes are topped with solar in the state, representing about half of US rooftop solar deployment to date.

Public comment can still be submitted to the CPUC online by June 10th, by following this link.

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