SACRAMENTO – As Gov. Gavin Newsom and state regulators decide how big of a role rooftop solar should play in California’s bid to generate 100 percent of its power from clean energy sources, members of Save California Solar, a coalition of more than 400 environmental, consumer and justice organizations and community leaders, delivered a letter Thursday urging them to keep it prominent and growing.
Specifically, 188 of the advocacy groups implored the governor and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regulators to protect and strengthen the state’s net metering program, which reimburses Californians who own rooftop solar for the extra electricity their solar panels provide to the grid. The CPUC is considering drastic cuts to the state’s net metering program and is expected to decide by the end of the year.
“California needs rooftop solar to reach its clean energy goals,” said Laura Deehan, state director at Environment California Research & Policy Center. “Gov. Newsom has a golden opportunity to stand up to the state’s investor-owned utilities, acknowledge the benefits that rooftop solar brings to our electric system and communities, and keep rooftop solar within reach for California families and businesses.”
Rooftop solar and batteries can help California communities be more resilient to climate-related disruptions to the electricity grid.
“Our support for local solar is based on a simple, fundamental fact: These local, decentralized clean energy resources are essential to the survival of our communities -- not just in the future, but right now,” said Erika Morgan, operations director for the California Alliance for Community Energy. “We must support this vibrant program that supports distributed energy resources, our climate progress, green jobs and our energy resilience. Without it, we face power shutoffs, and lack the social, economic and energy justice we demand. We need the broad, equitable clean energy benefits -- or we will be set back for decades.”
To keep solar in the hands of everyday Californians, the letter outlines why we must not only preserve net metering’s framework but also improve it:
Keep rooftop solar growing to fight climate change and build a safer, more resilient grid: Increasing the pace of rooftop solar and battery adoption is critical to meeting California's 100% clean energy goal. It also provides resilience in the face of power outages, empowers consumers with better choices to control their energy bills, and supports nearly 75,000 jobs in every corner of our state.
Prioritize equity: bring rooftop solar and storage to more low-income families and communities: Equity and low-income access to clean energy’s benefits are paramount. Today, rooftop solar is growing in lower- and middle-income neighborhoods, including on affordable multifamily apartment buildings. We should accelerate this trend so that more of California’s Environmental Justice and Social Justice (ESJ) communities and renters benefit from the wealth, savings, reliability, resilience, health and workforce benefits of local clean energy. This will ensure ESJ communities are not left behind by the clean energy transition, but instead are leading it and protecting themselves against the impacts of climate change.
Make solar-charged batteries standard with rooftop solar by 2030: Solar-charged batteries reduce strain on the grid and can help accelerate the retirement of polluting fossil fuel power plants. They also allow people to keep their lights on and food fresh during power outages without turning to dirty and dangerous backup generators. On the heels of California achieving one million solar rooftops last year, we should now strive for one million solar-charged batteries by 2030.
"Rooftop solar is a critical investment in fighting climate change and saving pristine ecosystems from being disrupted even further,” said Marven Norman, policy specialist at The Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ). “We should be creating more tools to help encourage its use, rather than looking to penalize the users who benefit from clean energy."
Despite the numerous benefits of rooftop solar, some of the state’s largest utilities -- Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SoCal Edison) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) -- are using a playbook described in Blocking Rooftop Solar to push for drastic changes to net metering in California. Earlier this year, the utilities moved to create the nation’s highest fixed charges for solar customers while simultaneously slashing the net metering payments that solar customers receive.
"Our communities have a right to the sun and its energy,” said Al Weinrub, coordinator for the Local Clean Energy Alliance. “It's a resource that the big utilities are trying to monopolize for shareholder profit, while we need that energy to meet community needs.”
Utility profits come mostly from capital investments in the electric system, such as new central power plants or large transmission line projects. Rooftop solar energy challenges traditional utility profit models by putting the generation of power in the hands of consumers, and by reducing the need for large, centralized grid infrastructure and fossil fuel power plants.
“Rooftop solar benefits all consumers, even those without solar,” said Jenn Engstrom, CALPIRG Education Fund state director. “Homes, schools and businesses in California that go solar reduce the need for costly and unnecessary grid investments today and contribute to building the clean and resilient energy system of the future.”