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Solar adoption declining in California after new rules take hold

 January 19, 2024 at 3:45 PM PST

S1: This week on Kpbs roundtable. Solar energy rules have changed for California , leading to a decline in solar adoption in the state.

S2: Solar industry advocates have estimated that under the new rules , the average compensation rate drops about 75%. And that's important because it costs a lot of money to install rooftop solar.

S1: And then a new reporting project documents the experiences of migrants at encampments in a remote San Diego desert community. Don't go anywhere. Roundtable is coming up next. We now know 2023 was the hottest year on record. Meanwhile , California continues its push to reach carbon neutrality by the year 2045 , with renewable energy like solar and wind playing a leading role. But a change in how solar energy is regulated by the state has led to declines in the adoption of solar , and it's leaving many Californians asking if the state's solar industry is broken. The New York Times recently reported that solar adoption fell by as much as 85% year over year in some months of 2023. That's according to a study from Ohm analytics here to help us better understand all that's happening with solar energy is Kpbs environment reporter Erik Andersen Robb Nicholas. He's energy reporter from the San Diego Union Tribune and Sammy Roth. He's a climate columnist with the Los Angeles Times and author of the Boiling Point newsletter. I want to welcome you all back to roundtable. So before digging into what is happening with solar in California today , I first wanted to take a step back.

S2: It should be pointed out we're talking about kind of a divergence in solar. One is utility scale solar , which normally you see typically see in places out in the desert , large solar plants. And then also you've got what's called customer driven solar , which is rooftop solar that you see when you drive through your neighborhood. But solar is a very important part of California's pursuit to try to get to 100% carbon free electricity by 2045. But it's one of just one of a number of tools that California's looking to get to other renewable things , like offshore wind , which is basically nonexistent right now in California. But California policymakers expect it to become a big part of the renewable energy system. Also , geothermal and battery storage and battery storage often gets paired with solar.


S3: But right now , solar is one of the the biggest parts. If you look at just sort of the large power plants on the grid outside of the rooftop solar space , um , I mean , big solar farms make up something like 14% of our electricity right now , or at least they did the year or two ago , the most recent year for which there's data available. And if you take rooftop solar into account to something like 10 or 11% of the electricity in the state. So this is a big piece of the puzzle and one that is definitely going to need to keep growing quite substantially if we want to get fossil fuels off of the grid.

S1: And , Eric , you know , when I think about solar , say , you know , I want to get solar installed on my home , this kind of might be a naive way of thinking about it , but I look at it , you know , I pay for installation and they come , they install it , and then I have this kind of separate way to generate energy for my home that goes alongside , you know , the energy I get from SDG and EE in my case. But it does seem like a little more complicated than just that , and a lot more integrated with the state's electricity grid.

S4: That kind of captures what solar is. But I'll take issue with a couple of things that you said there. And one of them is , is a separate way to generate energy for your home. This was a kind of a transformative thing for California. It became a way for homeowners to actually generate the electricity that they use in their home before solar. Um , there could have been some DIY type of projects that that might have done that , but this really made energy generation palatable for a lot of residents where it just didn't exist before. So that that was a pretty big change. And you remember all the way back to like 2005 , when solar was still kind of in its nascent stages and , and the lawmakers passed the Million Solar Roofs initiative. You know , they had something in mind then , and what they said at that time was , look , we want to try to boost the number of solar installations around the state of California. Uh , we want to be able to move toward energy independence. This was one of the reasons that they generated. And that's the the generating electricity or home. They wanted to lower electric bills , which even then were considered high and were recognized by lawmakers as an issue. And they wanted to make what they said was a smart move toward a cleaner energy future. Now , this was before , uh , well before a lot of the pressure was ratcheted up about the impact of climate change and and the need to to move away from fossil. And so some of those ideas were , were really kind of forward thinking for California. And it really kind of changed the game for players in the energy marketplace. And it made residents , you know , small players in that equation. So yeah , um , that's kind of like where this all came from. Uh , and and it is like that you do pay for the installation. Uh , you do get a separate way to generate energy from your home , but you still rely on energy from San Diego gas and electrics. The sun only shines so many hours a day , you can't generate solar electricity at night. This is why batteries become an issue. But you're still connected to the grid , and you're still able to to draw on power from your utility. If you live in an investor owned utility service area. So yeah , you had it kind of there. And I just wanted to give you a little more background on on kind of how we got to where we are now.

S1: Now , Eric , I want to point our attention to the CPUc , which has obviously an important role here. That's the California Public Utilities Commission. They're like the regulator when it comes to things like our electricity and natural gas , as I understand it. Can you tell us more about their role in terms of solar ? Sure.

S4: They are the folks who basically set out the rulebook. They decide how different relationships are going to be handled. The CPUc doesn't necessarily regulate the owners of rooftop solar systems , but they regulate the relationship that those rooftop solar customers have with the utilities. Um , and that's kind of where the some of the push and pull has been on the regulatory front , uh , utilities are interested in one particular thing , which is , you know , protecting their business model. They have expressed willingness to try to meet some of the state's clean energy goals. Um , they haven't always been as aggressive , uh , as the state would like , but but it certainly you can see that the effort is there. They're also concerned about making sure that they have the means to do the business that they need to do. And that means , in some ways , making sure that they're continuing to get the revenue that they get from the customers and making sure that solar doesn't completely siphon away all of their their customer base. So one of the things under the current rules that we have in California , even the adjusted rules , is that , you know , uh , resident can offset 90% of their electricity bill by providing excess electricity to the grid through the utilities. And and the utilities are trying to change that a little bit , uh , so that it lands a little bit more in their favor , if you.

S5: Will , and.

S1: Rob the rules. As Eric mentioned there , they have been changed. They were changed last spring in what you called , you know , a somewhat controversial decision. Can you break down what changed and what the CPU sees ? Reasoning was.

S2: Well , the CPUc , uh , changed the net energy metering rules. NEM colloquially , their most recent iteration of the rules changes was called NEM three. And what that the big thing about the change was , or the area that got the most focus was the revised tariff no longer credits new customers who have rooftop solar at the retail rate of electricity when their systems generate excess energy. Instead , they get paid at the , quote , actual avoided costs , which is a lot lower. Solar industry advocates have estimated that under the new rules , the average compensation rate drops about 75%. And that's important because , as we all know , it costs a lot of money to install rooftop solar. It can run the tens of thousands of dollars , especially when you pair it with battery storage. And if you're going to have a lower compensation rate , that means that your payback period , the amount of time it's going to take for you to be able to equalize the money that you invested to put a rooftop solar system on your home or business , it's going to extend that payback period. So that's one of the big things that's been a point of controversy.

S1: And so , Sammy , that sounds like , you know , the issue here is not just about increasing the adoption of solar. Exactly. There's a lot of discussion about , you know , how we should be allocating this , right. Yeah.

S3: Yeah. I mean , getting to these clean energy targets is is very hard and requires a lot of balancing and complexities. I mean , one of the reasons there's such concern about , you know , is net metering , the old the old way of compensating rooftop solar. Um , you know , the concern about is that driving up electric rates is our higher electric rates going to scare people away from buying or leasing electric cars , and from putting electric heat pumps in their home instead of gas heaters and electric stoves instead of gas stoves , which are also really crucial components of our climate change efforts in California , you've got to have a clean power grid , but then you've also got to cook as much of a as many of our energy uses up to that grid as possible , rather than than burning fossil fuels. Um , so yeah , rooftop solar is great at helping clean up the grid. But then , you know , what does it do to other parts of our climate agenda ? So it's it's complicated. And there's a lot of , um , I should say , a lot of argument and debate over to what extent is rooftop solar and net metering responsible for driving up electric rates ? There are people who will , you know , have studied this closely and who will tell you there's this huge transfer of wealth from the the poor to the rich with , you know , rising electric rates for those who can least afford it , for those who are stuck sort of staying on the grid without rooftop solar. There are a lot of environmental groups who have looked at that and said , no , you know , we're totally missing the ball here. Rooftop solar brings all of these benefits to society that that we're not taking into account. Um , and rates aren't actually going up that much as a result. So it's an argument that obviously continues. There's a there's a case finding its way through the courts , um , where you've got several environmental groups challenging now these changes to net metering , they , they lost the first round at the Court of Appeal and waiting to see if they'll be , um , you know , bringing that up to a higher court to ask for a different answer.

S1: When roundtable returns , we continue our discussion on solar and its role in California's climate change fight.

S3: I mean , the reality is that rooftop solar is it has thus far been one of the most effective tools that we've had for getting clean energy on the grid and for diminishing dependence on fossil fuels.

S1: That's just ahead on roundtable. You're listening to Kpbs roundtable. I'm Andrew Bracken. Today we're talking about the impact solar rule changes are having on the solar industry for California. I'm joined by Kpbs , Eric Andersen , the Union Tribune's Rob Nichols , and Sammy Roth from the Los Angeles Times. Eric , you've reported on some of the ways the CPUc is overhauling how we pay for electricity in California.

S4: So here in in San Diego , in the San Diego gas and electric service area , about half of the cost of a kilowatt hour , which is the measurement of electricity , about half of that is linked to delivery , transmission and some storage of the electricity. About 35% of that pays for the commodity itself. It's the generation , the purchasing of electricity that's brought into the region. And about 15% of that kilowatt hour charge is for public purpose programs and taxes. This pays for the solar subsidies , it pays for conservation subsidies and any taxes and other public purpose. Things like decommissioning. San Onofre , for example , would be one charge that you'll see on your bill. So the so that's kind of the ratio in rough terms , 50% transmission , 35% for commodity and about 15% for public purpose programs. And when you look at the entire electricity marketplace in California , you know , thanks to recent rate action , San Diego gas and Electric no longer has the highest per kilowatt hour rates in the state. And after a 28% rate hike was approved by the CPUc , now holds that crown. But they are still well above the national average. I was just recently traveling to to Carolina , where their , you know , average kilowatt hour cost is less than $0.20. And here in California , in San Diego , it's up over $0.57. Right. Um , so there are some stark differences , and there are things that are brewed into the cost of electricity in California that make it difficult to afford for many customers. SDC has told us that 26% of their customers , you know , they're behind in their bill more than 60 days , more than two months behind in their bill. So there's an affordability problem when it comes to electricity in California. And that affordability problem is an obstacle to electrification , which is which is good for the state's climate goals. And kind of central to all those debates is this push and pull battle over , over solar energy , because it carries both a benefit and a cost , and how those benefits and costs are awarded have kind of been at the heart of much of this struggle at the CPUc.


S3: There's a there's certainly folks who are , um , I think folks in the environmental space who think this is a good idea for the reasons that , you know , Eric was describing that the PUC is doing it , that this is going to lower the sort of per kilowatt hour price of electricity in a way that encourages electrification. At the same time , you've got the solar industry , for instance , the rooftop solar industry that is really unhappy with the fixed charge proposal because as as Eric was saying , this is something that's going to probably hit higher income homes a little bit harder because they're going to have to pay these larger , larger fees based on income. And , um , at least for now , that's still the biggest portion of the rooftop solar industry customer base. So if those folks are seeing their electric bills go up no matter what , there's sort of less for them to save on the a per kilowatt hour charge of the bill by generating their own electricity with solar. So the rooftop solar folks see , this is yet another blow to their their industry coming down the pipeline on top of their reductions to net metering.


S2: We're seeing more in California. We've got lots of lofty , ambitious goals , but now we're starting to see where the rubber hits the road. And because when you try to make these changes , that's going to end up , in many cases , making people's bills higher. So the state is trying to find ways to somehow shift things so that at least lower income customers aren't getting hit so hard. But I don't know if there's any way that you can really get around this situation without spending more money and having people pay more money , and that makes it already angry electorate even. More angry.

S1: Well , and on those economic impacts , I mean , you had some recent reporting about some of the economic impacts from these new solar rules. In a recent story , you report that solar company Sunrun is laying off some 62 workers in their San Diego offices , but it's also scaling back in other parts of the state. Tell us more about that.

S2: Yeah , we've got something at the newspaper that I work for. We take a look at various layoffs that have to be reported to the state. And last week , one of my colleagues pointed out that there were some layoffs that were reported at a solar company in San Diego. I dug into it and saw that Sunrun , which is based in San Francisco , they laid off a total of 62 employees at three different locations in San Diego , and included in that the majority of them work in a branch office in the Miramar area , and that branch office is going to close. Overall , since October of last year , Sunrun has laid off about 280 employees statewide. And then they also since the new net energy metering rules went into effect , they've laid off 887 people going back about nine months or so. It should be pointed out that before the new net energy metering rules went into effect , there was a rush and there were. And in fact , solar companies were hiring people and they were swamped because people were trying to. A lot of new , fuller customers wanted to get their new rooftop installations installed before the new net energy metering rules went into effect , because they were more generous. But since then , the drop off has been significant. And even if you take into effect okay , you had a lot of people that were buying rooftop solar in the 2 or 3 months before the new rules went into effect. But even if you go back about a year , a year and a half , they're not buying as many rooftop installations. They as they were a year , a year and a half ago. So there has been an impact , not just in the San Diego area but across the state.

S4: If I could just jump in here real quick , some of the numbers that come up with were crushing. Last November , the solar industry said that they had lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 17,000 of the 67,000 employees that they had in the solar sector. There's a report this week in a in PV magazine , where the chief executive officer of solar insurer told the magazine that he thinks that roughly two thirds of California's solar companies are at high risk of bankruptcy this year because of the changes made in these solar rules. Um , so I think there are some real world impacts to the state's ability to continue to install solar at the same pace that they have historically done that.

S1: In on those real world impacts. You were just talking about here. Another result of these new solar rules is a lawsuit. Can you tell us more about that and where that stands today ? Sure.

S4: When the CPUc , um , first proposed these rules and , uh , and then adopted them last year , uh , in April , um , there were three groups , one of them a San Diego group that said , no , you know , this is not right. The state regulators didn't follow , uh , the state public utilities code , and they challenged it , uh , in court. They basically , uh , ask the Court of Appeal , First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco to take a look at this , uh , because they felt that , you know , it didn't , uh , it didn't encourage , uh , the , uh , growth of solar. It it didn't provide any money for , for disadvantaged communities , uh , to install solar , solar. Um , and it just didn't quite meet what the state. Um. Requires in the state public utilities code. Uh , the Court of Appeal , you know , to some people's surprise , actually agreed to look at the issue. Uh , and they did look at the issue and then debated it back in December. Um , and , uh , five days after they had oral arguments , the the Court of Appeal issued their ruling basically rejecting the challenge and essentially saying , look , the regulators we're going to defer to them. They're the experts. Um , they didn't do anything , obviously , out of line with state statutes. Uh , and we're going to let that ruling stand. Um , the people who brought that legal action to court , uh , we're not happy about that. As you might imagine , they've , uh , appealed to the the panel to kind of reconsider it again , kind of like , look , um , we think that you are wrong on this point. We think that you were wrong on that point. Can you take another look at it and just kind of confirm that ? And if it gets rejected by the Court of Appeal ? Uh , there has been some discussion that they're going to move this along to the California Supreme Court. So I think that struggle , uh , with the with the regulators and these environmental groups is still very much alive and could move on to to an even higher court. Uh , if if the plaintiffs don't get the satisfaction that they're looking for.

S6: I see so.

S1: The the battle continues there.

S2: And also if the , uh , people who filed the case take it to the California Supreme Court. It might be an uphill battle for them , though , uh , just from other issues , even outside of solar that I've been covering of , what I generally have found is that courts have been a little bit reluctant to step into an , um , the purview of an agency or an oversight agency. They normally defer to them because it's not an area of expertise necessarily for the court , and they defer to that agency. One other thing I want to bring up , though , I think it's a complicating factor which makes this discussion hard and complicated , is that one of the issues with solar is that it's variable. You're not able to generate solar electricity at night , of course , because the sun is down and the sun isn't shining. And during the day , California produces so much solar , whether it's from rooftop solar or utility scale solar , that the price sometimes is practically zero. And it's not unusual that so much solar is being produced that it ends up the state ends up curtailing it. The state's grid operator ends up curtailing that. So I think it's important to realize that , like just like wind and other renewable sources , it's not just how much you're producing , it's when you're producing it. And that's something that the state and the state grid operators always trying to to weigh. And that leads to complicated decisions and sometimes controversial decisions like we saw with the CPSC that went into effect last April.

S1: And also kind of goes to the importance of storage that you guys mentioned earlier. I think , you know , you've covered that and really improving that ability to to store that energy when we get it. Right. Right.

S2: Right. And that was one thing you earlier in our discussion , you were saying what was behind some of the reasoning behind the CPUc decision on NEM three ? And one of the things that they put in , and three was an incentive to have people pair their rooftop solar systems with battery storage so that if your system is producing oodles of electricity during the day , you can save that up , send it back to the grid , or dispatch it within your own home and use that during the evening hours , especially those early evening hours in the summertime when the electric grid is under the most strain.

S4: Eric Robb is absolutely correct. This is a complicated issue. It is hard to manage not just solar energy. It's hard to manage energy in a state that is as big as California. We have a lot of demand , we have a lot of options. We have a lot of issues that we try as a state to address through our energy policy that have nothing to do with the consumption of energy , right ? There are things that are piled on. Uh , just to give you a quick example , you know , we fund wildfire reduction policies and practices. Through our electricity rates. And that's considered one of the one of the big drivers of of raising the rates of electricity. But is that something that should be part of the rate ? As of now , regulators have decided it is. State lawmakers have decided it is. But , you know , there have been occasional calls for that to be kind of removed from the cost of electricity. It's one thing that differentiates us from other states , but it's a very complicated system. It requires a lot. My head is too small to be able to conceive and manage how you make sure you provide electricity for everyone in the state when they want it. You know , electricity is not an on demand thing. It's it's not like a Netflix where if you want to watch a movie , you just put in an order for that movie and they send you that movie and you watch it. Electricity has to be up and running all the time. It's like a canal system that has to have water in it to every house all the time. And you have to be ready for that and plan for that and adjust for that and figure out how that fits into the big energy picture. So I don't envy any of the people who are making the decisions about how this works. And I think there are a lot of issues that are folded in. It's not just about electricity , it's not just about natural gas. There are a lot of issues folded in when they when they have to make decisions , but it makes it complicated. And sometimes when you look at a complicated issue , maybe the choice that was made isn't the best choice. I don't know , but it certainly is worth examining and trying to figure out where where the balance is.

S1: Sammy , you recently wrote a column titled how I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Rooftop Solar. In that column , you expressed a frustration that I think a lot of people share when it comes to climate change and this sort of perceived lack of urgency in finding solutions.

S3: You can have all of the arguments you want about , is this the most economically efficient way of going about it ? What are the equity impacts ? How does it affect other climate efforts ? I mean , the reality is that rooftop solar is one of the it has thus far been one of the most effective tools that we've had for getting clean energy on the grid and for diminishing dependence on fossil fuels. It's a , you know , 1.8 million homes and businesses in California have rooftop solar now and again , you can make all the arguments you want about. Is this the best way to do it moving forward ? Should we be more focused on , you know , lower cost electricity from large solar farms in the desert or onshore wind or geothermal or nuclear or whatever , have , you know , whatever it is ? Um , the reality is , rooftop solar is one of the most visible and well publicized climate solutions out there. People see it in their neighborhoods. They see it when they drive around. Um , when you have appointees of Governor Newsom who's made climate change such a signature issue and talked about all the good work he's done , when you have his appointees cutting the incentives and , uh , for rooftop solar and leading to the market just diminishing and crashing seemingly in the way that it is , um , that sends the message to a lot of people that , uh , that we're not doing everything we can on climate that that even that we're going backwards , that we're going in the wrong direction , that it's extremely understandable why you've got so many folks out there who are in , uh , in just such a state of alarm about this. Um , so , yeah , it's , uh , we can we can argue all we want about what's the what's the best way to go about this. Ultimately , we're going to need a large suite of clean energy technologies. Rooftop solar is going to be one of them. Even Southern California Edison , one of the big utilities , which has a , you know , pretty strong financial incentive to push back against rooftop solar , which it has. It advocated for these these cuts to net metering , even Edison and its sort of outlook on how are we going to get to 100% clean energy seas , rooftop and other small , small scale solar systems doubling from where they are in California right now ? So I think there's a lot of agreement that we need to figure out how to keep pushing this forward , and a lot of disagreement on what is the best way to do that. And we're seeing that play out in California right now.

S1: Well , we appreciate having you all here. Help us illuminate some of this , you know , complexity. I've been speaking with Kpbs environment reporter Eric Anderson , Rob Nichols , energy reporter with the San Diego Union Tribune , and Sammy Roth , climate columnist with the Los Angeles Times. Thanks so much for being here today.

S2: Thank you. Andrew.

S4: Thanks , Andrew. Thanks.

S1: When we come back , a new reporting project documented the experiences of migrants at encampments in a remote San Diego desert community.

S7: And we wanted to get a better sense of what that experience was like for the people who are coming here , and a better sense of how this phenomenon has become routine over months.

S1: Stay tuned. Roundtable is back in less than two minutes. You're listening to Kpbs roundtable , I'm Andrew Bracken. It's dark. The cold desert wind is blowing. Raindrops begin to fall. You pass through a break in the border wall and arrive at a new transition point in your journey to the United States. You now await processing by Border Patrol officials trying to keep warm and tense in the meantime. This is what many migrants from countries all over the world have been experiencing in recent weeks and months in parts of eastern San Diego County. Sophia mejias Pasco is an investigative reporter covering the border and immigration for a news source. She was part of the team reporting on the experience of migrants at encampments near Tacoma over a 48 hour period in early January. Sophia , welcome back to roundtable.

S7: Thanks for having me.

S1: So you and your colleagues at eNews source , Cody Delaney , Zoe Meyers , and Phillip Salata , you all provide a pretty sweeping portrait of the experience of migrants at these encampments. Why did you want to tell this story ? And in this particular pretty intimate , minute by minute way ? Yeah.

S7: So , I mean , since we first started reporting on these encampments back in May of 2023 , we've seen how they've become sort of a national spectacle. Right ? We've seen outlets from all over the world come to this little tiny town in southeastern San Diego and cover migrants who are coming from all around the world to , you know , a place that they've never heard of or never been to before. And we wanted to get a better sense of what that experience was like for the people who are coming here , and a better sense of how this phenomenon has become routine over months. It wasn't just , you know , a thing that was happening for a few weeks. We've seen it transform the town of Hakamada and the people who live there and work there. And so we wanted to get a better sense of what this sort of unofficial gateway really looks like for people.

S1: And before kind of diving into the experience of the migrants themselves , I want to touch upon this tiny town. As you mentioned , it's a small desert community. Tell us about this community and and how the migrants are being met when they arrive. I mean , how has a Kumba responded to this influx ? Yeah.

S7: So Hakamada is a small town , sort of in southeast San Diego , right on the US-Mexico border. This is an area of the border that has many really big gaps in the border wall. And the terrain out there is like very rocky , shrubby , and there's not a lot , a whole lot going on in the town. So when this started happening , we saw and we still see a huge , you know , outpouring of of support and resources from locals who live there , as well as , you know , advocates and , and activists who are coming from all over the place to support migrants as they're coming into the country here. Um , you know , those efforts have looked like bringing out medical personnel , food , water , warm meals to these people , just providing sort of even a welcoming team as these migrants enter into the US. Like I said , a lot of times , not knowing where they are or exactly what's about to happen to them.

S1: And as I understand it , they're kind of two camps where the migrants are staying once they arrive.

S7: And over the past few months , like I said , these these encampments first started popping up in May. But , you know , we've seen these camps populate in different areas of the border throughout Hakman Boulevard. Right now , it's just those two main ones , but it's basically just these like open waiting areas where migrants are funneled into by Border Patrol agents as they're waiting to be processed. So they come into the US through a break in the border wall. Then they look for border patrol. Border patrol basically says , hey , wait over here until we have time to process you. And that wait could be hours. It could be half a day. What ? You know what we saw in some cases in the past , it's been several days. But , you know , a lot of times these migrants are on their own to , uh , you know , sort of make a shelter or use tents that have been brought by volunteers to shelter themselves from the elements. They have very little food , water. Sometimes they're not prepared for the cold. You know , it can be very difficult conditions for people out there.

S1: And just for our listeners , we know that Boulevard is a neighboring community next to the hot springs there. Now , I think it can be challenging oftentimes to cover people when they're at their most vulnerable. Here you're writing about families with young children , people fleeing violence in their home countries , often , you know , with all their belongings and maybe a bag or two.

S7: And as you know , someone covering immigration , I'm often in situations where we're talking with vulnerable people. Right. And I think the biggest thing is to just sort of like assess how comfortable they feel talking to reporters , making sure that they understand that we are reporters. We're not part of the government and that they have a clear picture of what it means. Uh , to be talking to us that , you know , they're comfortable being recorded or not , or that they're okay with using their name and then just providing whatever information we can for them that they might not have. You know , that they're in San Diego County where they are in the US , stuff like that. And then also just being open to like whatever type of experience they have. You know , some people come from really long , difficult journeys that have been traumatic. They're scared. Others are , you know , joyful. This is the moment that they've been waiting for for months , you know. So I think also just being receptive to whatever sort of experience they're having when we meet them.

S1: Could you tell us about some of the people you met in this reporting over , you know , two days you guys stayed there nonstop for 48 hours.

S7: Noel was the name of one of the Cameroonians that we talked to. He's 24. He left Cameroon , I believe , in the beginning of September to come to the U.S. he was , uh , experiencing a lot of violence from separatist movements in the part of the country where he lived in. And so he came to the US and , uh , you know , even after like , 15 hours of waiting in this encampment in a tent , he said that this is like a dream come true to be in the U.S and he wanted to one day , uh , be a part of the US Army. We also met three sisters from Ecuador , two of them twins , and one had a one year old daughter with them. It also took them three months to get to the US from Ecuador. They were separated at one point while in Mexico and sent back twice while they were in Mexico. And they hope to find safety in the US and to find better jobs for themselves. I met a mother from Colombia who was here with her daughter , who wants to be a journalist. And you know , most of these people just come looking for safety and for better opportunities in the US.

S1: And it sounds like the majority of the migrants that you encountered here , their final destination wasn't San Diego. Where were they generally headed.

S7: All over the country , talked to people who are going to Idaho , to Texas , to Pennsylvania , new Jersey , New York , didn't meet anyone that had plans to stay in San Diego , actually.

S1: And you touched on this a little bit earlier , but can you , you know , walk us through what happens after they arrived to me ? You know , reading it , it was sounded kind of like a little bit of a hurry up and wait situation. You know , it's like they cross over into the US. It's probably a pretty important turning point. At the same time , it's just kind of okay , now wait here. Exactly.

S7: Exactly. Yeah. So they , you know , a lot of people would cross into the US through these gaps in the wall in big groups by the dozen or more. And like I said , they would be funneled by Border Patrol into these waiting areas where there would be tents and sometimes , you know , water , bottled water and food. Um , and from there they would wait until Border Patrol was ready to process them. And when that happened , Border Patrol would pick them up in vans and take them to a processing center where basically agents would document their arrival , fingerprint them , take biometric and biographical information , and then decide essentially what's going to happen next to them. And that would be based on their immigration history and their criminal history. From there , they could be put into removal proceedings. Many of them , you know , who are asylum seekers , will eventually get a court date in front of an immigration judge , which is sometimes years into the future. One person I talked to from this reporting , he doesn't have his next court date until 2029. And so that's another waiting game. You know , people are put into this position where they have sort of a temporary status in the U.S. they don't know if they'll be able to live here forever. You know , getting work during that time can also be really difficult. So it's , you know , our immigration system puts people into , you know , constant waiting games.

S1: And I'm curious how you kind of process that you're seeing these examples of this. We've had you on roundtable previously talking about this , and I heard other border reporters refer to our immigration system as fundamentally broken. Right. You mentioned someone having an immigration court date in 2029. I mean , that's years and years away.

S7: And it's hard to , you know , we meet all these people who , like I said , many of them are really excited to finally be in the U.S. they've had a really difficult journey. They've been traveling for months. And finally they get this moment where they've reached safety and they think that this is , you know , the beginning of a new life. And then they're thrown into these challenges that our immigration system presents , like to wait years from for an immigration court date. Meanwhile , not being able to get a job legally right now , we're at a historic moment in immigration. For the past two years , we've seen. More than 2 million undocumented crossings in 2023 and 2022. And , uh. I think the Biden administration has tried to create more legal pathways , but it's difficult to understand what's going to happen to all these people , like in a few years when their immigration court date finally comes.


S7: Like , we know that for years , like , migrants have used gaps in the wall to , to come into the US. But in this little town of Kumba , it's just become routine. It's become a cycle. It's become normal. You know , people cross in the morning or at whatever time of day they find Border patrol. They wait in the camps , the volunteers bring them food and supplies whenever they can. You know , like this. It's just become a normalized cycle here. And I think as congressional leaders debate immigration reform and as we approach elections and immigration becomes a really big topic of debate , I think it's just interesting to see how this is really , you know , one example of how this is coming to a head in San Diego County.

S1: And of course , we know it's a presidential election year , adding more attention to the issue , you know , as we're having primaries and near the election. Right.

S7: I think I have plans to go out to Kumba again soon. Um , what we've seen recently is that the the flow of migrants in the past few weeks in this area has slowed down , but there's rumors that it could pick back up again. And I think we'll just have to go out there again to see what happens. As far as the people that we met , I definitely plan on , you know , keeping in touch with them. As I said , they've they've , uh , some of them have court dates in the future. And in the meantime , they've already told me how difficult it has been to adjust to a new life in the U.S. not being able to work , having some , you know , housing and security issues. So we'll plan to keep in touch with them as well.


S7: And I think it's just important to understand that this is happening right here in our backyards and that we should be paying attention to it.

S1: Well , it's a great story. Congratulations to you and your team and I Newsource. Sophia , he is Pasco is an investigative border and immigration reporter with a news source. I want to thank you for being here and sharing more about your reporting with us today.

S7: Thanks for having me.

S1: That'll do it for our show today. Thanks for being here with us. We'd love to hear from you. You can email us at roundtable at You can also leave us a message at (619) 452-0228. From last week's discussion on San Diego schools upcoming funding challenges , we heard from Todd Madison , who felt we could have focused more on the impact raises given to San Diego Unified employees are having on its budget. You can listen to our show anytime as a podcast. Kpbs roundtable airs on Kpbs FM at noon on Fridays and again Sundays at 6 a.m. Roundtable's technical producer is Rebecca Chacon. Brooke Ruth is roundtable senior producer , and I'm Andrew Bracken. Thanks for listening.

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This file photo taken Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, shows solar panels on rooftops of a housing development in Folsom, Calif.
Rich Pedroncelli
This file photo taken Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, shows solar panels on rooftops of a housing development in Folsom, Calif.

Solar energy rules have changed for California, and the industry is seeing a decline in the adoption of solar energy in the state. What effect are they having on the golden state’s move toward a green energy future? Plus, we get a look into what migrants are experiencing at encampments in a remote community in the San Diego desert.


Erik Anderson, environment reporter, KPBS

Rob Nikolewski, energy reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Sammy Roth, culture columnist, Los Angeles Times

Sofía Mejías-Pascoe, investigative border and immigration reporter, inewsource