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Environment

Utility regulators to defend new California solar rules in court this week

Workers installing rooftop solar panels on an Oceanside home in this undated photo
Baker Home Energy
Workers installing rooftop solar panels on an Oceanside home in this undated photo

A California appeals court will hear a challenge of the state’s new solar rules this week.

Three environmental groups, the San Diego-based Protect Our Communities Foundation, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Working Group asked the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco to force California regulators to reconsider new rules for rooftop solar.

The legal challenge argues that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) violated the state’s public utility code when it approved the rule changes.

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The groups say the CPUC failed to support solar in disadvantaged communities, failed to account for all the benefits of rooftop solar and failed to make sure the solar industry grows sustainably.

All of those things are required in the California Public Utilities Code.

It is rare for a CPUC decision to be challenged in court, because petitioners cannot just sue the CPUC if they do not agree with a decision by commissioners.

“For a Public Utilities Commission decision you have to go straight to the court of appeal and the court of appeal has discretion about whether they decide to hear the case,” said Aaron Stanton, an attorney for the environmental groups. “In this case, the court of appeal exercised its discretion to hear the case. And so, the oral argument and the hearing on the case will be Dec. 13.”

No new evidence will be presented to the judge during the oral arguments.

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“The hearing is an opportunity for both sides to present their strongest case and again answer any questions that the judges may have about the legal theories. About the evidence in the record,” Stanton said.

The court could force regulators to reconsider their decision or let the decision stand. It is not clear when a ruling will be issued.

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