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Legal fight over California solar rules not over

Solar workers install panels on an Oceanside home in this undated photo
Courtesy of Baker Home Energy
Solar workers install panels on an Oceanside home in this undated photo

Three environmental groups challenging California’s recently adopted solar rules are going back to court in an effort to roll back the regulations.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Working Group and San Diego’s Protect Our Communities Foundation are asking the court to take a second look at the issue.

A three judge panel at the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco agreed to hear the issue this past summer.


The petitioners argued that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) failed to follow the state’s utility code when it revised the net energy metering (NEM) rules for the third time.

They said the CPUC failed to include financial support to install solar in disadvantaged communities, passed rules that hurt the growth of the solar industry and did not accurately account for all the benefits of rooftop solar.

The assumptions about the value of solar led to regulators to slash the value of electricity generated on rooftop systems by about 75%.

The three judge panel heard the appeal in mid-December and issued a 35-page written ruling five days after oral arguments. The court essentially deferred to the CPUC saying that the regulators followed their legislative mandate to review and revise the rules.

The state legislature requires regulators to examine the rules governing rooftop solar every five years or so.


“Is this case really all about the meaning of the word 'the?,'” said Roger Lin, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “When the statute in question, public utilities code 2827.1, mentions that we have to take into account the cost and benefits of rooftop solar. Does that mean some, or does that mean all of the benefits of rooftop solar.”

Lin argues the court made a legal mistake in deferring to the CPUC. He stated case law shows that the decision gives the agency too much discretion to revise the rules.

And, Lin argues, the rules are based on faulty assessments of the value of rooftop solar.

The rehearing request will go back to the same three-judge panel. It is unclear when or if the court will take up the case again.

The groups have hinted that an appeal to the California Supreme Court might be coming down the road.