CULVER CITY, CA — A national network of utility interest groups and fossil-fuel industry-funded think tanks is providing funding, model legislation, and political cover for anti-solar campaigns across the country, and would-be solar power owners in California could soon pay the price, said a new report by Environment California Research & Policy Center.
The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the trade group that represents U.S. investor-owned electric utilities including Southern California Edison and PG&E, launched the current wave of anti-solar advocacy with a 2012 conference warning utilities of the challenges solar energy posed to their traditional profit centers. Since then, EEI has worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) on model legislation to repeal state renewable electricity standards and ran an anti-solar public relations campaign in Arizona, according to the analysis, Blocking the Sun: 12 Utilities and Fossil Fuel Interests That Are Undermining American Solar Power.
“Edison Electric Institute has been working in the shadows to undermine solar power here in California,” said Garrick Monaghan, solar campaign organizer for Environment California Research & Policy Center. “And our report shows they’re following the same playbook used by polluters and their allies across the country to try to weaken California’s successful net energy metering program.”
In the last two years alone, California’s solar energy capacity has grown 75%, generating increasing amounts of clean energy at increasingly affordable prices and employing over 54,000 Californians.
The state’s solar boom is largely the result of bold, forward-thinking public policies that have created a strong solar industry while putting solar energy within the financial reach of more and more homes, businesses, schools and communities. The policy that has created the majority of California’s rooftop solar energy power is net metering, which makes it possible for solar customers to receive a fair credit on their electricity bills for the excess electricity that they send onto the grid for others to use.
“Solar power should be available and affordable for those who stand to benefit from it most,” said Senator Holly J. Mitchell, whose South Los Angeles district includes wide swaths of neighborhoods in which access to clean, affordable energy is of growing concern. “Resistance to increased access, as described in Environment California’s report, should be sunlighted so that public policy on energy particularly likely to impact under-served communities is not shaped in the shadows but results from a conversation that fully includes the public.”
But Edison Electric Institute and utilities throughout California have been working largely behind the scenes to weaken net metering. Even as Governor Brown signed landmark clean energy bills last week, including a requirement for the state to generate 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, the fate of the state’s keystone solar policy hangs in the balance as the utilities seek to increase fees on solar customers. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is set to make a critical decision on the future of net metering and of solar power in California by the end of the year.
“We found that most attacks on solar energy happen behind closed doors in utility agencies, or in dense regulatory filings -- away from public view," said Gideon Weissman of the Frontier Group, co-author of the report. “That’s probably because they’re aimed at very popular policies that give regular consumers the chance to go solar.”
Environment California Research & Policy Center released the report today at a home in Culver City that is powered by solar energy.
“…The stakes are incredibly high,” said Culver City councilmember Meghan Sahli-Wells. “We know first hand what fossil fuels do to our community. Culver City lives under the shadow of the largest urban oil field in the United States - the Inglewood Oil Field.”
J Marvin Campbell, a solar homeowner, shared the perspectives of many homeowners. “Proposed rule changes will result in less energy savings to the home-owner and add years to the ROI of a solar array- providing a strong disincentive for future solar buyers. How, exactly, is this promoting the adoption of solar energy- which I believe the utilities are mandated to do?”
“By wide margins, Californians support pro-solar policies,” said Monaghan, “That’s why the Edison Electric Institute has resorted to shady tactics to undermine them. Now it’s up to Governor Brown and the California Public Utilities Commission to reject these attacks and support net metering and a clean energy future.”