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Environment

Proposed California Law Could Change The State's Solar Industry

A worker helps to install solar panels onto a roof in the Van Nuys section of Los Angeles, Aug. 8, 2019.
Associated Press
A worker helps to install solar panels onto a roof in the Van Nuys section of Los Angeles, Aug. 8, 2019.

A San Diego lawmaker is pushing legislation in the California Assembly that would change how much investor-owned utilities pay residents for electricity generated from rooftop solar arrays.

Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez is pushing fellow lawmakers to approve Assembly Bill 1139, legislation that would cut how much investor-owned utilities pay for electricity generated from rooftop solar and impose flat fees on customers with rooftop systems.

Proposed California Law Could Change The State’s Solar Industry
Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.

Gonzalez said residents without rooftop solar are paying billions of dollars more for electricity because they cannot afford to install solar panels.

“Any money that is saved has to go back to ratepayers,” Gonzalez said.

The San Diego lawmaker said the current net energy metering system is unsustainable for consumers and her bill levels the playing field between solar and non-solar residents.

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Gonzalez said California has to keep pushing to achieve 100% renewable energy, but there has to be equity.

“We just want to make sure that those individuals who can never get solar, maybe they're renters, maybe they’ll never be able to afford it, maybe their roof can’t take it, maybe their house is facing the wrong way, but those folks who will always be electric ratepayers will not be burdened every time someone gets rooftop solar,” Gonzalez said.

She said her approach saves working-class families money because they currently have to pay higher utility costs that are shifted from solar to non-solar customers.

“That cost shift has gotten bigger and bigger and so in San Diego for example ratepayers pay about $230 a year to subsidize rooftop solar folks,” Gonzalez said.

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The measure has drawn fire from consumer and solar advocates who say the bill will roll back legacy rates for current customers and introduce flat grid access fees that could cost solar customers $50 to $86 a month.

Critics say the cost shift narrative is a fictional argument being pushed by utilities who do not like losing paying customers.

“There is no credible evidence or data that supports the cost shift,” said Bernadette Del Chiarro, of the California Solar and Storage Association. “What there is, is a profit shift from utilities to consumers. What SDG&E doesn’t like is that they make less money when more people generate their own electricity.”

More than 100 organizations have argued against the bill and they have actively rallied more than 20,000 people to lobby their Assembly members to reject the proposal.

Solar industry officials say AB 1139 removes the financial incentive for anyone but the super-rich to install rooftop solar.

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“There will be no solar, rooftop solar jobs, which are 65,000 strong in the state of California,” Del Chiarro said. “If this bill goes through there simply will be no market for rooftop solar except for a handful of extremely wealthy people for whom cost is no object.”

Gonzalez counters that her proposal is not an industry killer because the state mandates solar energy for every new home built in the state.

The bill sidesteps a reconsideration of net energy metering a reform already underway by California regulators.

The state’s Public Utilities Commission is taking public comment after utility-backed groups requested a change in the current system for paying for electricity generated by rooftop systems.

The CPUC process is widely expected to wrap up by early 2022.