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Environment

San Diego community advocates rally for rules that favor solar power

Solar panels will power the buildings of the Imperial Valley Office of Education in El Centro.
Katie Schoolov
Solar panels will power the buildings of the Imperial Valley Office of Education in El Centro in this undated photo.

Solar advocates gathered in San Diego and nine other California cities Thursday to let utility regulators know they don’t like a proposed plan for rooftop solar.

Energy consumers, climate activists and solar employees gathered outside the St. Stevens Church of God In Christ. Protesters rallied in support of changing a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) plan to rewrite the state’s net energy metering (NEM) rules.

Those rules determine the value of electricity generated on solar rooftops.

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Cloudy skies hung over normally sunny San Diego, much like the clouds are hanging over a proposal unveiled last month by the CPUC.

“We’re in a climate crisis and communities of concern are often impacted first and worst,” said Bishop George Dallas McKinney on the front lawn of his southeast San Diego church. “Taking away access to clean energy right now is an atrocity.”

State regulators dropped the most onerous part of their first proposal to rewrite the rules last December.

Steep mandatory grid connection fees were not in the revised plan, unveiled last month. But the new proposal does call for deep cuts in the value of electricity generated on rooftops and sold back to the grid.

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“It would slash the value of solar energy, 75% overnight, while boosting utility profits at the expense of the public starting next year,” said Danica Tomayo, of the climate advocacy group San Diego 350. “

Solar advocates are calling on the commission to adopt a plan much closer to the existing rules.

They say keeping solar affordable for middle and low income residents will help the state meet tough greenhouse gas reduction goals.

But California’s investor-owned utilities have engaged in a long campaign to change the current NEM system.

Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric have all backed a plan much like the one unveiled a year ago.

It included mandatory monthly grid connection fees and deep cuts to what utilities are forced to pay rooftop solar owners for the electricity they sell back to the grid.

That plan was loudly panned and rejected a month later.

While utilities have not spoken publicly on the issue, regulatory filings and hearings make their position clear. The energy companies argue the cost of solar subsidies is landing on the bills of customers who do not have solar panels.

“The current program is structured so that (it) primarily disadvantages Californian, low-income seniors, renters, people who don’t have solar who don’t have access to (it) are subsidizing benefits that flow primarily to wealthy Californians who own homes who can afford to put solar rooftop panels on their homes,” said Kathy Fairbanks, of the utility funded Affordable Clean Energy For All.

Utilities push the argument that the cost shift to non-solar customers is unfair and they continue to push for a plan that eliminates most of the consumer’s financial benefits of adding solar panels.

Solar advocates say the changes to rules outline in the CPUC proposal would hobble the nation’s most successful solar industry.

Nearly 1.5 million California homes have solar panels.

The CPUC is scheduled to take up the issue at their Dec. 15 meeting and they could choose to adopt the plan, change it, or reject it.