Some parts of advocating for the environment during a pandemic are the same as ever. But some are radically different. For example, earlier this month, I sat at my makeshift at-home desk (a white folding table that I set up every morning) and provided public comments in a virtual public hearing. The testimony was before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), a regulatory body in San Francisco, California, nearly 3,000 miles away from my impromptu desk in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Even though I wasn’t in an official government building, I felt similar to when I’ve testified in person. I was nervous that I would go over time and be cut off. I was relieved when I finished the public comment without major stumbles. And, perhaps most importantly, I was excited to represent Environment California’s position before the regulatory body that will soon cast a decision that will affect the future of rooftop solar not only in California, but, by extension, also across the country.
Let me provide some context. The CPUC is considering drastic cuts to California’s net energy metering, the policy that compensates solar owners for the extra electricity that they sell back to the grid.
Now is a terrible time to weaken state policies that make it easier for people to go solar. To reach California’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2045, the state needs to nearly quadruple its current rooftop solar capacity and net metering is one of the most important policies to reach that commitment. Earlier this year, Environment California Research & Policy Center released Rooftop Solar at Risk, which highlights in one example after another that when compensation for rooftop solar is gutted, installation rates plummet.
That’s why 188 advocacy organizations and community leaders sent a letter to the CPUC and California Gov. Gavin Newsom calling on them to protect rooftop solar. And, it’s why I testified at the hearing.
Here are the public comments that I provided to the commission:
Hello and thank you to the commissioners for the opportunity to speak. My name is Bronte Payne and I’m here on behalf of Environment California.
In a letter to be delivered to the commission today, 188 advocacy organizations are imploring the commission to protect and strengthen the state’s net metering program. These organizations and leaders are part of the over 400 working together to save rooftop solar.
The letter states that the framework of net metering should be maintained and improved to meet the following goals:
Keep Rooftop Solar Growing to Fight Climate Change and Build a Safer, More Resilient Grid
Prioritize Equity: Bring Rooftop Solar + Storage to More Low-Income Families and Communities
Make Solar-Charged Batteries Standard with Rooftop Solar by 2030
We are concerned that ill-informed changes to net metering, such as slashing solar bill savings or imposing new fees on solar users, will set back California's climate change and environmental justice goals, consign the public to annual power outages, reduce customer bill savings and harm low-income access to solar energy.
To keep solar in the hands of everyday Californians, we need to maintain a strong net metering program.