Solar industry supporters rallied outside of Sempra’s downtown San Diego headquarters Tuesday, complaining about proposals to make rooftop solar much more expensive.
The California Public Utilities Commission is in the midst of a process that will rewrite the rules for Net Energy Metering (NEM), the state’s system for creating financial incentives to install rooftop solar.
Rooftop solar is widely seen as a key part of California’s strategy to move the state’s power generation away from greenhouse gas emissions. That means relying more on renewable energy instead of fossil fuels like natural gas to generate electricity.
The protesters tried, but failed to deliver a petition asking the energy company to stop supporting rule changes that significantly increase the cost of installing solar.
“Do you think they can hear us?” shouted Carter Levin who was holding up the petitions before the locked front doors of the headquarters building. “Can they hear us? It's 15,000 people asking San Diego Gas and Electric, very nicely, to cut it out!”
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a proposed decision last December levying a flat monthly fee of about $60 dollars on customers who paid thousands to install solar panels. The plan also slashed the value of electricity those customers can sell back to the grid.
The proposal was widely panned and just a month later Governor Gavin Newsom indicated work still needed to be done.
A few weeks later the CPUC pulled the proposal off their docket and began working on revising their overhaul of the existing NEM rules.
Those revisions are being developed behind closed doors, and advocates are working hard to make sure the public doesn’t forget that the issue is not settled yet.
“We have the second-most solar in the country, which is amazing, but we have a long way to go,” said Matthew Vasilakis, a member of the Climate Action Campaign in San Diego. “We are nowhere near 100 percent clean energy. We’re going to get there through various means. And rooftop solar is one of those critical pillars.”
Many protesters wore red t-shirts saying, Stop the Solar Tax. They said the planet is in the midst of a climate emergency and this is the wrong time to make solar energy more expensive.
“We are seeing the effects of climate change with our own eyes,” said Keala Minna Choe, a board member of San Diego 350. “And yet there is little action from our policy makers, our policy leaders and our industry makers. The climate crisis currently disproportionately impacts young people.”
A utility-funded advocacy group, Affordable Clean Energy For All, hopes the CPUC makes a ruling on the NEM rules soon. They took issue with the protesters’ message.
“There is no difference of opinion about whether there should be more rooftop solar in California,” said Kathy Fairbanks, a spokesperson for the advocacy group. “It’s about who should pay for it. The current NEM program is paid for by electricity customers who don’t have rooftop solar.
Sempra officials did not meet the protesters, but the parent company of San Diego Gas and Electric did say, in a statement, that they fully support renewables, and the company is investing billions in energy networks in California to help the state meet its ambitious goals for carbon neutrality.
The company points out that they are the only U.S. utility on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and Sempra’s record speaks for itself.
Sempra is also the parent company of Southern California Gas which supplies natural gas to residential and commercial customers in the region.
The CPUC has said very little since regulators pulled the reform proposal from the docket in the spring.
There is no firm date for a decision on the new NEM rules, but observers think it could happen before the end of the year.