California Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Public Utilities Commission are about to destroy the rooftop solar success story with a new, but still too extreme, proposal that slashes its incentives.
It will reduce the money utilities pay for additional clean energy sent to the grid by 75%. It would extend the payback time of solar installations and accumulate this important industry that provides 70,000 jobs for Californians. The commission votes on this new proposal on December 15.
Rooftop solar panels, when combined with home batteries or electric vehicle batteries, are vital to California’s need for clean energy. Without rooftop solar we cannot avoid the worst consequences of climate change. We are already experiencing a dramatic decline in our water supply, extreme heat waves that expose the fragility of our utility infrastructure, and wildfires that destroy entire neighborhoods and kill people.
In fact, it was rooftop solar energy stored in batteries and sent to the power supply that helped maintain power during the recent September heat event. Newsom and the CPUC will destroy the rooftop solar market even as the California Energy Commission and California Air Resources Board say it is vital to the state’s ability to prevent the worst consequences of climate change.
It is corruption in plain sight. According to a Washington Post investigation, Newsom and his family have received at least $700,000 in contributions from Pacific Gas and Electric Co., its foundation and its employees over the past 20 years. The CPUC is supposed to be independent, but its decisions appear to be dictated by the governor.
“We do what the governor tells us to do, period,” former CPUC CEO Alice Stebbins said in a 2021 interview with Sacramento’s ABC10. Our governor seems to be picking what the utilities want and they see rooftop solar as a threat to their profits.
Utility companies use the “fairness” argument to justify their greed. They say the current rules aren’t fair to those who can’t afford solar. However, in 2021, 43% of new solar installations nationwide went to low-income residents. If the CPUC is concerned about fairness, it could accept the billions of dollars in fines utilities have paid for problems that led to wildfires that burned large swathes of the state to help low-income people get solar power. Additionally, a study by Vibrant showed that allowing the continued growth of rooftop solar panels and storage could save taxpayers up to $120 billion over the next 30 years.
The loss of distributed power like rooftop solar has serious consequences, not only for the growth of renewables, but also for the larger goal of decarbonization. Electrified transportation and buildings do not provide any benefit if they do not run on clean energy.
It also helps our energy supply. During the September heat wave, a virtual power plant of solar power and batteries on the roof helped keep everyone’s air conditioning on. This ability to increase clean energy supplies for all will expand exponentially when electric vehicle batteries can be used to back up solar power.
As renowned energy economist Ahmed Faruqui said in his comments to the CPUC: “Rooftop solar panels provide customers with low-cost clean energy and, when combined with a battery, can help customers cope with power outages and share power with your neighbors. and the grid. If customers won’t install rooftop solar panels because they have a very long payback period, they won’t install a battery either. The market is moving towards more batteries, but supply is currently tight and we are still high on the cost curve. Over time, as supply increases and costs decrease, more of these batteries can be added to provide massive value to the grid and to the customer. Why kill that opportunity now? 7
PG&E’s donations to Newsom should not affect California’s energy supply at the expense of our best interests. It should not be done at the expense of the future of our children and grandchildren.
This proposal will accelerate climate change. Call or email the governor and tell him to stop his rooftop solar attacks. We have the power to stop this if we use our voices loud and clear. Please use yours.
Susannah Saunders is Vice President of the San Anselmo Climate Action Commission.