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California’s solar industry faces tough times

 December 1, 2023 at 5:00 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Debbie Cruz….it’s Friday, December first.

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Why California’s solar industry will lose thousands of jobs by early next year. More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….

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A lawsuit has been filed by the family of Aaron Bonin, who died in a county jail, last year.

Bonin died from end stage renal disease.

The lawsuit accuses the sheriff’s Department and a group of other defendants of wrongful death, negligence and deliberate indifference, among other allegations.

Attorney Lauren Williams represents the family, and says this case is similar to many that have come before due to treatment in local jails.

“San Diego County has a disproportionately high in custody death rate and a pretty bad track record for providing basic, necessary medical care.”

Last year, a state audit recommended intervention by the legislature because of the failure to address the high number of deaths in county jails.

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A former Camp Pendleton Marine pleaded guilty yesterday to federal criminal charges for firebombing an Orange County Planned Parenthood clinic in March last year.

24-year-old Chance Brannon pleaded guilty to conspiracy, malicious destruction of property by fire and explosive, intentional damage to a reproductive health services facility and other charges.

Two others were involved and are awaiting trial.

According to an affidavit from an F-B-I special agent, Brannon and another defendant allegedly ignited and threw a Molotov cocktail at the clinic entrance.

Brannon is scheduled to be sentenced on April 15th.

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Today is World Aids Day, and events are being held throughout the county.

That includes an event at the Oceanside Public Library, where panels of the National Aids memorial quilt will be on display, along with H-I-V resources and public storytelling.

Max Disposti of the North County L-G-B-T-Q Resource Center says the event is about coming together to honor those who died … and:

“To continue to destigmatize people living with HIV/AIDS”

The event starts at 5-30 this evening.

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From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

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California’s solar industry is facing tough times after state utility regulators changed the rules for rooftop solar, last spring.

Environment reporter Erik Anderson says sales are down and layoffs are up.

Ross Williams has worked in the San Diego region’s residential solar industry since 20-10.  He’s never seen anything this dark for an industry that enjoyed double digit growth over the last decade. Ross Williams, HES Solar “That’s brutal.  I mean no company can survive where your sales are 30 percent of what they were last year. right?.  It’s just a recipe for disaster.” H-E-S Solar had fewer than ten employees when Williams joined the firm more than a decade ago.  He bought the company in 20-15 in part because the future was bright. The workforce swelled to 75 by the beginning of this year.  But new solar rules took effect in April, and Williams was forced to cut jobs in July and again in August.  The San Diego company is down to 35 workers. “It’s the absolute worst.  The absolute worst.  And it’s very difficult to tell people that I personally hired with that promise.  Hey we’re going to be a spot for you.  You work well for us, we’re going to be there for you. – say hey, sorry.  Can’t employ you anymore.  It’s extremely difficult.” California’s solar industry employed more than 78-thousand people in 2023.  67-thousand in the residential rooftop solar sector.  Industry officials project 17-thousand of those residential jobs will be snuffed out by the first quarter of next year and prospects for the rest of the year remain dark. “The market, in real time, is 80 percent below where it was last summer.” Bernadette Del Chiaro is the executive director of the California Solar & Storage Association.   She says the layoffs are exactly what the industry was warning about when regulators were revising the state’s Net Energy Metering rules. The NEM-three rule changes slashed the value of electricity produced by rooftop solar and that has crushed demand. Bernadette Del Chiaro, California Solar & Storage Association “What the 80 percent is, is sales.  And it’s measured by sales data, collected in the aggregate across the industry, as well as interconnection applications. That’s the first step of the interconnection process. ” The economic impacts are only part of the story. The decline will also hurt California’s efforts to reach carbon neutrality by 2045.  That requires slashing greenhouse gas emissions, cutting air pollution and dramatically reducing fossil fuel consumption.  Stanford University’s Mark Jacobson says rooftop solar was expected to account for about a quarter of that energy production, but this year’s rules change may put that target out of reach as solar adoption stalls. Mark Jacobson, Stanford University “Slowing that down with hostile regulations to make it more expensive for people to put up rooftop solar is just going to slow down a transition.” Jacobson has studied pathways for California to electrify the state’s economy. He says it will require greatly expanding wind energy, utility scale solar, geothermal energy, battery storage and solar from rooftops.  He says regulators should be facilitators. “Every opportunity we have, regulators need to make it easy to put solar on, not more difficult.  And not listen to these naysayers who are trying to make money by outlawing the inexpensive use of solar on people’s homes.” The rule changes implemented this year are being challenged in court.  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 regulators to reconsider the changes.   The challenge argues the California Public Utilities Commission failed to support solar in disadvantaged communities and didn’t account for all the benefits of rooftop solar.  Regulators also are required to make sure the solar industry grows sustainably. Aaron Stanton, Attorney “All three of those things are statutory requirements in the Public Utilities Code and the commission’s decision doesn’t meet those requirements.” The C-P-U-C asked the court to reject the challenge in a legal filing. The court decided to hear the case.  Oral arguments are scheduled on December 13th.  It is unclear when a decision might be rendered. Erik Anderson KPBS News.

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Chula Vista councilmember Andrea Cardenas hasn’t been showing up to city council meetings.

South Bay reporter Kori Suzuki says she could lose her seat if that keeps happening.

Mayor taps gavel It’s been almost a month since Cardenas was charged with fraud and grand theft for allegedly stealing a federal pandemic aid loan.“Madam Clerk, if you could please call the role.” “Councilmember Cardenas is absent.” It’s also been a month since she came to work – at Chula Vista’s city council meetings. The first-term councilmember has missed both meetings held in November, citing “personal health matters.” Enough absences could be a serious problem for Cardenas. Four in a row would actually be enough to remove her from office, according to Chula Vista’s city charter. But her absences can be excused if she files a request – and the rest of the City Council approves it. “This is approval of an excused absence request from Councilmember Cardenas for the November 14, 2023 City Council meeting.” “Please vote.” That’s exactly what they did this week, excusing one of the missed meetings. Which means it won’t count towards her removal. Chula Vista Mayor John McCann was the only vote against excusing her absence. In an email to KPBS, he said Cardenas’ absences mean that people in her district aren’t getting the representation they deserve. And that’s more evidence  she should resign. Cardenas did not respond to a request for comment. Kori Suzuki, KPBS News.

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There is a delegation of San Diego County school leaders in San Francisco this week, collaborating with their colleagues from across the state.

Education reporter M.G. Perez says that includes students, too.

The California School Board Association is welcoming more than 4-thousand trustees and superintendents from across the state ….for the largest education leadership conference on the West Coast. They’re meeting at the Moscone Convention Center to work on solutions to gun violence, mental health issues, and learning loss created by the COVID shutdown…… together… face-to-face… from every sized school district. Matthew Quitoriano is the senior student school board trustee there from San Diego Unified … “students are the most honest group you will ever listen to. We’re the ones in those dusty classrooms, we’re the ones in those spaces..and we’re forced to be honest with what’s happening.” At the moment, student trustees across California have a voice on school boards…but no voting rights. MGP KPBS News.

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Coming up.... What you need to know about December Nights.

“The tree lighting is a magical moment. We have thousands of people watching and counting down for when the tree gets lit, and that really is the start of December Nights and actually the start of the holiday season.”

More on what you can expect at the 2-day event, just after the break.

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All decked out for the holidays, food, museums and entertainment, these are just a taste of what to expect at this year’s December Nights.

The event takes place in the heart of Balboa Park, today from 3 to 11pm, and tomorrow from 11am to 11pm.

Joining me now is Natasha Collura, executive director of special events with the city of San Diego, she is here to tell us about the two-day event.

Welcome to the San Diego News Now podcast, Natasha!

Natasha, please give us a little background on december nights.

My husband and i, along with our two sons..  moved here almost 20 years ago, and we were blown away with this event. 

If you can tell us when it all started and how it has evolved to what it is today. 

December nights offers something for everyone, and i understand the family zone has been expanded this year. what does that look like? ….and are any of the activities free?

I also heard rumblings of a skating rink?

And I understand you have the tree lighting that you have every year. What time does that start and when?

Let’s talk a little about traffic, it’s a challenge every year and i know, parking is limited. What other transportation options are available? 

I heard about so many things you can find on your website. It’s called a mobile website… what does that mean?

TAG: I’ve been speaking with Natasha Collura, city of San Diego’s executive director for special events.

Thank you Natasha for coming on the podcast and sharing all this information about this year’s December Nights. I hope to see you there!!

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That’s it for the podcast today. This podcast is produced by KPBS Producer Emilyn Mohebbi and edited by KPBS Senior Producer Brooke Ruth. We’d like to thank KPBS producer Lara McCaffrey and KPBS editor Megan Burke for helping the podcast team this week. As always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. Join us again on Monday for the day’s top stories. I’m Debbie Cruz. Thanks for listening and have a great weekend.

California’s solar industry is facing tough times after state utility regulators changed the rules for rooftop solar last spring. In other news, Chula Vista councilmember Andrea Cardenas hasn’t been showing up to city council meetings after being charged with fraud and grand theft for allegedly stealing a federal pandemic aid loan. Plus, we have details on what you can expect at this year’s December Nights in Balboa Park, happening Friday and Saturday.