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San Diego Environmentalists Rally For Solar Power

San Diegans Protest Changes in Solar Incentives

About 200 people rallied in downtown San Diego on Wednesday, calling for California to maintain its incentives for rooftop solar panels.

The protest, co-organized by groups including the Sierra Club and solar panel manufacturer Sullivan Solar Power, took place outside the headquarters of Sempra, the parent company of San Diego Gas & Electric. Speakers at the rally accused SDG&E of trying to roll back a program in California that gives money back to customers with solar panels on their roofs.

Those solar panels often produce more electricity than the building consumes. The incentive program, called net energy metering, allows homes, businesses and schools with solar panels to sell excess electricity back to the grid at retail costs, giving them significant discounts on their energy bill. Environmentalists say it is one of the most powerful tools to encourage the adoption of solar energy in California.


But solar panels also lose money for investor-owned utilities like SDG&E. The power company wants excess power from solar panels to be sold back at wholesale costs – effectively lowering the discount for solar users.

SDG&E spokeswoman Amber Albrecht said non-solar customers are paying an average of $8 per month to subsidize rooftop solar customers. She said the current system was devised when the solar industry needed far more support than it does now.

"We'll actually see a doubling of rooftop solar by 2025, even if our proposal is accepted," Albrecht said. "The reason (net energy metering) was put in place was because at the time it was a very expensive technology. The costs have come down significantly over the last 20 years.

The California Public Utilities Commission has until the end of the year to come up with a program to replace net energy metering. Environmentalists like Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., who led the protest on Wednesday, say that new program has to keep solar power an attractive and affordable option.

"We need the transition (to renewable energy)," Yearwood said, "and we need the transition right now."

Corrected: July 12, 2024 at 4:38 PM PDT
Disclosure: Sullivan Solar Power is a funder of KPBS.