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California regulators plan to revisit solar rule changes, as legal action moves forward

Solar panels sit above the Solar Grove parking lot at the Kyocera Plant in San Diego.
Sandy Huffaker
Solar panels sit above the Solar Grove parking lot at the Kyocera Plant in San Diego.

California regulators are poised to reconsider their unanimous decision late last year to dramatically change the state solar rules.

That move comes as The Protect Our Communities Foundation, Center for Biological Diversity and Environmental Working Group step up their legal action to get the rules overturned.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted 5-0 last December to end more than two years of debate of the state’s Net Energy Metering (NEM) rules. Those rules govern how much the state’s utilities have to pay residents who are selling power back to the grid from their rooftop solar arrays.


The NEM rule changes drastically cut the value of rooftop generated solar amid outcries from the solar industry, state residents and government officials who were worried California’s rapid adoption of rooftop solar would be stunted.

“The commission’s misguided new policy violates California’s climate laws and will stifle rooftop solar growth, especially for working-class families,” said Roger Lin, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “California is ground zero for the climate emergency, and it’s outrageous that the commission is slow-walking our renewable energy transition when we need to be racing toward it.”

The three advocacy groups said regulators failed to follow California’s utilities code when they adopted the new regulations. They argue the new rules do not account for all the benefits of solar, do not encourage more solar adoption and do not include a plan to expand solar in disadvantaged communities.

The groups filed a legal request in January to have the CPUC reconsider its decision.

The petition said for-profit utilities across the country are trying to gut rooftop solar programs because distributed energy resources, like rooftop solar, threaten the utility business model.


That January petition languished without action for more than four months.

“We were awaiting a response. There had been none,” said Bill Powers of The Protect Our Communities Foundation. “We were well past 60 days. Now that there’s been a filing, the commission has given us a date when they are going to provide a response.”

The groups upped the ante this week filing a legal petition with the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco. The commission and the state’s three investor-owned utilities have 30 days to file a response to the court.

A CPUC spokesperson said the commission is prepared to hear the requests to abandon the decision at their regularly scheduled June 29 meeting.

Observers consider it unlikely that the panel will overturn the December decision when they convene in June because all of the commissioners voted for the new rules.

CPUC decisions are notoriously hard to challenge in court because the commission’s decisions cannot be directly litigated in court.

“If it were another agency, we would have the right of appeal,” Powers said. “In this case, the court has the right to determine whether or not it will take the appeal. So, there isn’t a right of appeal.”

State lawmakers created the unusual process as a way to keep an uniformed judiciary from changing decisions commissioners have invested years studying.

“The legislature has always granted a level of deference to the commission and limited judicial review,” said Joe Kaatz, an attorney focusing on energy issues at the University of San Diego.