Opinion: CPUC’s proposal to change rooftop solar policy will hurt middle-class people
By Esperanza Vielma
Special for examiner
When solar panels hit the market 20 years ago, the environmentally conscious wealthy were the most likely solar consumers. This is because the market was not yet big enough to drive down costs.
But thanks to a policy called net energy metering, or NEM, the California solar market has seen nothing short of a revolution. NEM compensates rooftop solar customers at a retail rate for the excess electricity created by their solar panels, and everyday people use and love the program.
Today, working families and the middle class are nearly 50% of solar customers. These numbers could well be in the middle of the 60 percentile in just a few years, if we get it right.
The trick to advancing true solar equity is to get it right. Right now, due to a cynical, PR-focused lobbying campaign by California’s investor-owned utilities, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is doing all the wrong things. .
CPUC is proposing a new tax on rooftop solar customers, reducing the NEM credit that solar customers and imposing an overall reduction of 57 to 71% in the residential solar savings rate. the The CPUC supports this change will prevent California’s investor-owned utilities, or IOUs, from passing on the costs of maintaining the network to the poor. IOUs call this argument a “change in cost.”
I lead the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water (EJCW). I am co-founder of the Coalition for Environmental Equity and Economics (CEEE). Along with Green the Church and the Council of Mexican Federations in North America (COFEM), we represent frontline communities for environmental justice, Latino immigrant communities in California, and the faith-based green movement. The defense of these communities is our only concern. It is therefore disconcerting to hear the CPUC claim that it has the the best interest of environmental justice communities at heart in building the proposed NEM 3.0 decision.
The truth is, California’s solar revolution is great news for our state and our frontline communities, and rolling back the growth of rooftop solar would be really bad. That’s because the expansion of rooftop solar has helped clean California’s air by reducing fossil fuel emissions. For frontline communities who live in areas with the worst air quality in California, reducing emissions also decreases the health problems caused by this pollution.
The California Solar Revolution is the best way for California to reduce the cost of people’s electric bills. Because the sun is a free and sustainable resource, the price to harness its energy is significantly cleaner and significantly cheaper than fossil fuels. This is especially true when power generation takes place on the roof of a building or house. We need rooftop solar to be even more accessible, not less.
So what are all the arguments about “changing costs” and who actually benefits? Closer examination tells a story that has little to do with fairness. The most prominent proponent of cost change public policy is the American Legislative Exchange advice, also known as ALEC. ALEC is an ultra-conservative pressure group known for protecting the coal industry, restricting state voting rights, promoting private prisons and hailing the virtues of payday lending for the poor people. So not a progressive group in our book. And hardly the kind of institution that would promote fairness unless, of course, the argument benefits a profit-driven monopoly like an investor-owned utility, the largest of which is PG&E.
There is a saying that many members of the Latino community use to judge human motivations: “Dime con quien andas, te dire quien eres”, which means “tell me who you are with, and I will tell you who you are. are”. The association of ALEC’s “cost shifting” argument with the CPUC’s NEM 3.0 ruling proposal is troubling but not surprising. Every environmental justice activist in California has dealt with PG&E, SCE, or SDG&E at some point. Our experience has not been good: forest fires, blackouts, blackouts and constant rate hikes caused by IOUs. So in this case, we can say we know who they are because we know they are with ALEC.
So how do we create solar equity for the frontline communities we represent? The answer to this question is too long for this editorial. However, I am sure of one thing: the decision proposed by NEM 3.0 is the exact opposite of a cost change. It steals the economic and health benefits of successful rooftop solar power from the middle and poor class and returns those benefits to monopolistic IOUs.
Esperanza Vielma is executive director of the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water.