California Assembly Debating Solar Energy Reforms
Thursday, June 3, 2021
Photo by Mike Damron
The California Assembly is still considering a controversial measure that could dramatically change the solar market in California. It failed to get a majority vote the first time it was put up for consideration, but the measure could be voted on again before Friday.
Community and solar advocates rallied against AB 1139 in Chula Vista Wednesday.
The protesters asked state Assembly members to reject the bill. The measure is currently short of the majority needed for passage. The voting process is expected to conclude this week.
The proposal, authored by San Diego area Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, would change the current net metering system for residents with rooftop solar.
Net metering determines how much utilities must pay for resident generated electricity. The revised version of the system was adopted in 2016 and it included provisions for time of use rates, interconnection fees and non-bypassable charges.
AB 1139 suggested further revisions including flat monthly connection fees of $50 to $80, and much lower payments for electricity generated by home solar systems.
“Utility attacks on solar aren’t new,” said Karinna Gonzalez, of Hammond Climate Solutions. “However, what is being proposed in Assembly Bill 1139 is the most aggressive attack on rooftop solar that we have seen to date.”
The bill’s author came under fire for advancing net metering changes being asked for by the state’s investor owned utilities.
Lorena Gonzalez argued it was an equity issue with the state’s poor residents paying for their rich neighbors.
“How we decided to subsidize solar from the beginning was wrong,” the assembly member said. “That is something the state of California did 35 years ago, not knowing how successful it would be.”
Lorena Gonzalez said solar was shifting costs to maintain the grid to residents who did not have solar.
“And we’ve got to reexamine it and say hey, maybe we do want to subsidize rooftop solar, but where do we do that subsidy?” Lorena Gonzalez said. “Who pays for that subsidy? It can’t be those who are least likely and able to get solar.”
Lorena Gonzales framed the issue as an equity issue saying that her Black and brown constituents without solar are forced to subsidize rich residents who have it.
That’s not what Sonja Robinson sees.
The community advocate says the Lorena Gonzalez proposal will keep solar as an option only rich people have.
“Right now we’re looking at Black and brown communities that now have an opportunity, with solar being so economical and available to them,” Robinson said. “To have opportunities to receive solar, so they can power themselves, they can power their neighborhoods, and they can help power their communities. AB 1139 would take that right away from them.”
The National City-based Environmental Health Coalition is actively working to bring rooftop solar to San Diego County’s underserved neighborhoods. The group does not have a position on AB 1139.
However, EHC is pushing for the legislature to adopt AB 693, which would invest in rooftop solar for low income renters.
“Rooftop solar provides much-needed relief to renters in Environmental Justice communities through solar credits that lower their monthly electric bill,” said Monica de la Cruz, a community advocate at the Health Coalition. “Low-income communities of color are already most vulnerable to climate change, pollution, and economic fallout. We need to do all we can to continue to grow rooftop solar sustainably and ensure that equitable access to solar is protected."
Meanwhile, the California Public Utilities Commission is gathering input that could lead to another update net metering rules.
A utility-backed proposal has many of the same elements offered by Lorena Gonzalez in AB 1139.
That revision could happen by the end of the year.
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