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California Assembly Debating Solar Energy Reforms

Speaker 1: 00:00 A state bill that would decrease the electricity. Electricity rates paid to customers who generate solar power did not pass in the California assembly yesterday, but it may survive another vote. The bill AB 1139 has pitted author assemblywoman, Lorena Gonzalez against the rooftop solar industry and many environmentalist's Gonzalez claims that rooftop solar is accessible mainly by upper income people. And the amount utilities pay those people for the solar energy generated increases the energy bills paid by the poor. Her bill is surprisingly similar to a plan proposed by utilities to decrease the solar energy rates paid, uh, S a rally took place in Chula Vista yesterday as community and solar advocates gathered to oppose the bill. And joining me is Eric Anderson, KP Ben KPBS environment reporter Eric. Welcome my pleasure, Maureen, when does AB 1139 come up for another vote? Speaker 2: 01:02 Well, the assembly is taking up the issue today, when exactly that happens. Uh, we don't know, um, the assembly would need, uh, 41 yes. Votes for that measure to pass yesterday. It got short of 30, so, uh, still some work to be done, but it was brought up for a reconsideration today. If it passes today, that would be it. Uh, the measure would move forward to the Senate. If it doesn't pass today, uh, assembly member Gonzalez could, uh, take the option of, uh, asking for another vote tomorrow. Um, if it doesn't pass by the end of the day tomorrow though, that would be it for this measure. Speaker 1: 01:39 The white costs are calculated for solar generation is called net metering. Can you explain how it works now? Speaker 2: 01:47 Yeah. Um, net metering is basically the system that the California public utilities commission came up with when foe, when they were first trying to encourage people to put rooftop solar on their homes. And what they basically did initially was to, um, you know, force the utilities to buy the electricity at the same price that they sold it to customers. So if it costs you 35 cents a kilowatt hour to buy electricity from the utility, uh, any electricity you generate and send back into the grid will be paid at 35 cents an hour. Now there were some difficulties with that formula as more and more people began, uh, adding solar to their rooftop. The utilities began complaining that it wasn't quite fair. It wasn't equitable, it didn't pay for all of their costs. So there was a revision done back in 2016, in 2016. And that revision basically added a couple of things. Speaker 2: 02:39 There's now a flat connection fee that is supposed to help pay for, uh, uh, utilities, uh, grid maintenance. There's also the introduction of time of use rates. So electricity at different times costs and, and is worth different prices. And the formula for determining what the price of the electricity is that you sell back basically shifted a little bit to favor the utilities. In other words, they can sell you electricity at a few pennies, more per kilowatt hour, then you can sell it back to them. So it kind of, uh, ease the financial burden on them that happened back in 2016. And now there's a push to, to renew that, uh, to review that process, uh, because, uh, utilities are saying that, you know, they are, uh, the system is unfair to them, uh, and it's cutting into their profits. Yeah, Speaker 1: 03:30 That sounds complicated enough. So how would a, B 1139 change the system that's already in place? Speaker 2: 03:36 Yeah, it would, uh, do some pretty drastic things. It would add flat monthly connection fees for solar users. So you might pay 50 to $80 a month every single month. Uh, if you have a connection to solar and, and it would also slash the fee that the utility would be forced to pay you for any solar that you do generate. So, uh, what that, uh, in essence does is it removes the financial incentive to bill accordingly. This is what solar, uh, industry advocates say. It would remove the financial incentive to build new systems, uh, and it would destroy any financial benefit that people who spent the money to put these systems on their roofs, uh, would get Speaker 1: 04:19 Now assembly woman Gonzalez claims that the money paid to solar rooftop customers is making energy more expensive for lower income people, but there's been a major push from environmentalist in state government in support of rooftop solar over the years, there's been subsidies and incentives. So is this the first time the issue of equity has entered the discussion? Speaker 2: 04:42 I don't think it's the first time that the issue of equity has entered the discussion, but it's kind of a unique way to present the issue. Uh, it's an argument that the, that the utility industry makes frequently, which is that non rooftop, solar customers are somehow subsidizing the rooftop solar customers who are selling electricity back into the grid. Uh, you know, what your, where you're coming at from a starting position, kind of determines whether or not you see that as acceptable. Uh, uh, and what Lorena Gonzalez has added on top of that is the fact that, um, many people, uh, many of her, uh, brown and black constituents who live in poor neighborhoods don't have the same access, uh, to, to this, uh, this subsidy. Uh, and so it's not fair to them because they can't afford this, but, um, interestingly her measure, uh, which included, uh, money for low income housing initially, um, had that written out of the bill in a subsequent amendment, and it would take away any financial incentive, uh, that people in lower income neighborhoods would have to install solar and would actually make it more difficult, uh, for people, uh, to put solar on their rooftops if they live in a neighborhood or fair, uh, not as, uh, as, as financially robust as some of the people who can afford solar. Speaker 2: 06:03 Now, Speaker 1: 06:04 Now this controversy has in a sense aligned Lorena Gonzalez with the utility industry, which is unusual given her reputation as a progressive leader in the assembly. So is her bill very much in line with what the industry wants? I believe that the industry is going to present something to this CP UC. It that's very similar to this bill. Speaker 2: 06:28 Absolutely. It makes the same talking points. It takes the same positions. Um, uh, but, uh, I think that, uh, Lorena Gonzalez supports it. Not for the reason you might think it's not because she thinks that utilities are right on this. I think she's supporting this measure because it's supported by the IBW, uh, IBW, the international brotherhood of electrical worker, electrical workers, union workers at utilities, um, who are worried about the future of their jobs. Um, and so, uh, and they frequently side with the utilities, uh, on these positions. Uh, and that's why she's supporting it. So in an odd sense, um, maybe not an odd sense, but in one sense, she's supporting the utility workers whose jobs may be at risk down the road at the expense of the solar workers whose jobs would be at risk. Um, if this measure passes, Speaker 1: 07:18 As I said, very, very complicated. I've been speaking with Eric Anderson KPBS environment, reporter Eric, thank you. My pleasure.

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California lawmakers are mulling over sweeping changes to the state's net metering regulations, which determine how residential solar users are paid.
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