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Solar industry braces for change

 December 13, 2021 at 7:56 AM PST

Speaker 1: (00:03)

Good morning. I'm Annica Colbert. It's Monday, December 13th. Our homeowner is still gonna save money with rooftop, solar panels, more on that next, but first let's do the headlines, The sail accused of setting the fire that destroyed the USS Bonham Rashard in July of 2020 will be in court today. Semen apprentice, Ryan Sawyer Mays is accused of arson and hazarding a vessel in the fire that burned along the waterfront. Over four days in the hearing set for this week, prosecutors have to show they have enough evidence to warrant, to trial legal analyst. Tony O'Neil says identifying the arsonist could be problematic. I

Speaker 2: (00:46)

Think the masks are gonna be a real problem. I think the fact that people were wearing masks and of course they're military. So they're wearing uniforms as well. They're indistinguishable. Um, I think all of those are gonna be really high hurdles for the

Speaker 1: (00:58)

Government. The Navy paints maze as a disgruntled sailor are upset after failing to qualify as a seal. The San Diego unified school district's COVID 19 vaccination mandate could be considered by the us Supreme court. Late last Friday attorneys representing a 16 year old Scripps ranch high school student filed an emergency application with the high court to stop the district mandate. The mandate requires eligible students 16 and up to be fully vaccinated in order to attend classes in person, students would have to have their second vaccine dose by December 20th in order to be in compliance by January, a heavy winter storm is expected to move into San Diego county. Tomorrow morning, heavy winds and rains are expected across the county. Some spots could see over an inch of rain and snow is possible in the mountains. The storm is coming inland overnight and will sweep across the county before moving out east Tuesday evening from KPBS, you are listening to San Diego news. Now stay with me from more of the local news. You need California investor owned utilities are quietly pushing hard from major reforms to the system that incentivizes state residents to install rooftop. Solar state regulators are about to weigh in on the issue after seeking put for the past year K PBS environment reporter Eric Anderson has more

Speaker 3: (02:29)

Cavan Welsh, chime lifts up a solar panel destined for a San Diego rooftop.

Speaker 4: (02:34)

So this is glass and then the, the cells are actually behind the, the glass there. And then it's all enclosed from the back with that, that frame on it.

Speaker 3: (02:43)

Van Welsh chime found it at Aloha solar two years ago, and businesses brisk this installation in Delmar will be up and running in a day. And van Welsh says another crew is working at a different location. There's consumer interest in solar because it saves customers money and helps the environment

Speaker 4: (03:01)

You produce the energy whenever you want. You can pull it back kind of whenever you want. And there's a cost that, that the utility says, we'll give it to you for this cost. We'll sell it for this cost and we'll give it to you for this cost.

Speaker 3: (03:12)

The California public utilities commission set up rules for solar known as net energy metering, which locks in the price of electricity that residents sell back to utilities. And the current version also requires a small monthly fee to pay for fixed costs.

Speaker 4: (03:26)

It's agreement locked in and the agreement is pre favorable for solar customers. Right now,

Speaker 3: (03:31)

The state's investor owned utilities are asking for major changes. They want to slash the price of electricity that are required to buy from homeowner who install solar systems. And they want to charge a monthly grid connection fee. That could be up to $90 a month. They argue solar customers are saving money at the expense of their neighbors, San Diego gas and electric declined an opportunity to discuss their positions, steering KPBS, to surrogates like the utility reform network or turn

Speaker 5: (04:01)

Future solar customers. Let's bring the subsidy in alignment with the fact that costs of solar installation are dramatically less than they were once upon a time,

Speaker 3: (04:13)

Mark Tony is the group's executive director and he says the solar subsidy needs to be cut in California because the state's electricity prices are already some of the most expensive in the nation. Now

Speaker 5: (04:24)

In San Diego, uh, we estimate that that's about $260 a year that nons solar customers are paying extra. And what we'd like to see is we'd like to bring that down. So at the customers who don't own solar, get a little bit of a break because prices are just too high.

Speaker 3: (04:49)

The cost shift argument is a common talking point for groups like turn and the natural resources defense council, which have aligned their reform proposals with the utilities. They argue that at customers without solar pay higher prices for electricity because solar customers are buying less, that allows solar customers to avoid paying for grid maintenance, transmission lines, and wildfire mitigation costs baked into the rates. The N R D C estimates only about 15% of the L cost of a kilowat hour pays for solar subsidies. Bernadette Del KIRO is the executive director of the California solar and storage association. And she says, the investor owned utilities are flexing their financial muscles.

Speaker 6: (05:37)

They have so much power and influence and you know, they hire PR firm with millions of dollars to spend and they, you know, effectively shape the whole debate and, you know, take something that's kind of confusing, uh, and, and make it seem like it's, um, you know, a very difficult decision.

Speaker 3: (05:54)

Well, KPBS couldn't ask SDG any, any questions directly. They did email a statement. Utility officials said they've been working on net energy metering reforms for the past year and are eager to see the systems in equities addressed. Del Kiara says the company is too focused on profit

Speaker 6: (06:13)

Instead of looking at how to improve upon net metering and make it better, better for people with lower income people in apartment buildings, people that are faced with repeated grid outages. Instead they're saying, let's just take the guillotine to this program and make solar twice as expensive and completely inaccesible to everybody.

Speaker 3: (06:34)

The solar market reforms won't be finalized until early next year. And any preliminary plans could change before the California public utilities commission votes on

Speaker 1: (06:43)

Them. And that was K PBS environment reporter Eric Anderson, The sea lions in point LA JOA in boomer, each are huge tourist attractions, but a local environmental group says people are harassing them. K PBS's Melissa May has more

Speaker 7: (07:06)

Crowds can get up to 300 visitors an hour. And PS are even getting separated from their moms, preventing them from nursing. Carol toy is a volunteer for the Sierra club seal society, her group, and the era club's San Diego chapter are urging mayor Todd, Gloria, and the city of San Diego to close the sea lion. Roee at point LA Jolla and boomer beach.

Speaker 8: (07:27)

The issue is that people are getting too close. Some of that will lead to harassment as it's defined by the Marine mammal protection act, but also they will just be prevent the sea lions from using the area and also put them putting themselves

Speaker 7: (07:43)

In danger, extreme forms of harassment, involve people touching, kicking, and even kicking sand at the sea lions, both Sierra branches, hope to meet with mayor Gloria and have the city issue and emergency closure like they did back in August until the coastal development plan is completed. And

Speaker 1: (08:00)

That was K PBS's. Melissa May more than 40 organizations have come together across the state to form California's future of abortion council. That council which formed in September is now issuing 45 recommendations on how the state can make accessing an abortion easier and affordable. K Q E DS, Katie or details a new report outlast Wednesday.

Speaker 9: (08:28)

The council is making its recommendations as the us Supreme court considers the fate of Roe V. Wade. They include increasing investments in abortion funds that help people obtain care and training opportunities for providers as well as stronger protections for patients and providers in case other states seek to punish people, traveling here for abortions and those who help them. Jody Hicks heads up planned parenthood, affiliates of California. If we're imagining

Speaker 10: (08:56)

A scenario where 26 states are going to craft abortion bands in very different ways, that it was important that our providers had protections in place.

Speaker 9: (09:07)

Hick says the council will work with state leaders to implement recommendations.

Speaker 1: (09:11)

And that was K Q E DS Katie, or How California is going to try and prevent catastrophic wildfires was the subject of an oversight hearing in Sacramento last week, cap radio, Scott rod has more

Speaker 11: (09:33)

The state allocated about one, 5 billion for vegetation thinning and forest management. This year it's a record setting investment, but of course, dollars alone will not prevent wildfires. Democratic assemblyman, Richard bloom chairs, the budget subcommittee that held the oversight hearing lawmakers called for the hearing after a cap radio investigation found governor Gavin Newsom significantly O overstated his administration's accomplishments on wildfire prevention. After a month's long delay, lawmakers finally got their chance to ask questions. They learned that the governor's program to streamline environmental review is struggling. Helen Christine is with the nonpartisan legislative analyst's office. We didn't find,

Speaker 12: (10:14)

Uh, you know, clear data showing, but it had, um, had significantly expedited projects. But again, it's, it's very early days

Speaker 11: (10:21)

Here. Lawmakers also pressed Cal fire, chief Tom Porter for real time data on projects, but he said, that's not possible right now, the state's system updates on a monthly basis, it will be up to Porter's successor to make that data more readily available. He retires on Friday after three years of leading the department

Speaker 1: (10:40)

And that was cap radio, Scott rod Coming up San Diego mayor. Todd Gloria recently celebrated his first anniversary as mayor of San Diego. KPBS caught up with him to talk about his first year and what he's working for year two. That's next, just after the break Last week marked one year since mayor Todd Gloria took office to become its 37th mayor here he is. After being sworn in last December.

Speaker 13: (11:36)

Today is a day that a new chapter in San Diego's history today is the day that we start building a San Diego. That truly is

Speaker 1: (11:45)

For all of us. K PS, Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen caught up with the mayor to take a look at his first year in office and the current issues he's working on as he starts his second

Speaker 14: (11:56)

Year in office. Mayor Gloria, thank you for joining us today. Thank you for having me. It's been about a week now since your COVID vaccine requirement for city employees took effect. And this is something that the police officers union had tried to fight. How are those last minute hold outs who are still UN vaccinated responding to this policy so far?

Speaker 15: (12:16)

Well, we're seeing some progress in just the five days after the council adopted the vaccine mandate over 400 reported becoming vaccinated. We've gotten additional numbers in the last few days, and I'm encouraged by that hopeful that the remainder, uh, of folks will choose to get vaccinated for themselves, for their coworkers and for their city. My goal is not to terminate employees. It may come to that. My preference is that folks get vaccinated, uh, so that they are not at risk of both acquiring COVID 19 and to spreading it to their coworkers, to the public that we're entrusted to serve.

Speaker 14: (12:49)

The pandemic has made this quite a first year in office for you. When you look at what you set out to accomplish in that first year, and you compare it to what you actually were able to accomplish, how would you rate yourself?

Speaker 15: (13:02)

well, I'll leave ratings to, uh, folks like yourself and to the general public who are my boss, but you know, these are very difficult times. You know, I ran to bring transformational change on home housing infrastructure climate. We've been able to make progress on all those funds, but of course the main focus has been on defeating the pandemic and restarting our economy and from the unanimous by powder and passage of my back to work SD budget that invested millions dollars in economic recovery to our relatively high vaccination rates. I think that we've been able to, uh, be leaders in this space of recovery and I'm anxious to put the pandemic behind us and focus all of our time, attention and resources on the crisis. That is our homelessness situation, our housing affordability crisis, uh, as well as the need to invest in infrastructure. I feel like when we hit our, our marks, when it comes to housing and to infras, we will, of course be making progress on climate action, which is, uh, an urgent need.

Speaker 14: (14:00)

Last month, the state of California put out a call for ideas on how to redevelop two blocks of property downtown. Now you've had your eye on this piece of land for, uh, several years. You authored a bill on it, uh, when you were in the state assembly, but because this land is actually owned by the state government, you as mayor, don't get to have final say over what happens there. What would you like to see happen on this property?

Speaker 15: (14:24)

Well, I don't have final say, but thanks to an exceptional relationship with governor Newsom, we will have some say in this process, and these are two full city blocks in downtown San Diego that only occupied by a small office building on one half of one block. Uh, this is in the context of a housing crisis where we have people who are not just living on our streets, but are struggling, uh, to make ends meet month to month. And don't know if they too may end up homeless. I believe these public assets need to be used to their highest and best use. I believe that that will naturally include a substantial amount of housing housing that should be affordable, not just to extremely low and low income San Diegos, but also middle income San Diegos, uh, who I think we need to do a lot more, uh, for when it comes to housing production. It's

Speaker 14: (15:08)

A big day at the SANDAG board of direct. You're going to be voting on the 2021 regional transportation plan. You've been a supporter of this vision for a long time. Why?

Speaker 15: (15:18)

Because I am a native San Diego and I know where our city has been. And it also informs where I think it needs to go. And that is not a status quo approach to mobility, but one that really recognizes the dynamic nature of the way people get around these days. You know, just a few years ago, we didn't have a host of options that San Diegos use all the time. Now, whether that's mobility apps and, uh, Uber, Lyft, scooters, and other things, we have to have a regional transportation plan that takes into account the innovation that's happening in this space that accommodates our needs to have, uh, aggressive climate action. And that helps us to facilitate the and infrastructure that we need to maintain our quality of life. I believe this plan can do that. My hope is that we can adopt this, implement it and show San Diego what can happen when you're actually finally given choices when it comes from getting from a to B.

Speaker 15: (16:04)

I think we all know that for most part, we really just have one way to get around and that's a private vehicle. And the good news is under this plan. You'll continue to have that option. But in addition, you'll have a host of other good options like walking in your community on something other than a busted sidewalk that you could take high quality public transit to get where you need to go in a reasonable amount of time and you can ride a bicycle without taking your life in your hands. I think, uh, San Agans are owed these kinds of options, and I believe this plan can deliver

Speaker 14: (16:28)

To them. You surprised a lot of people last week, when you announced you were opposed to a part of the transportation plans, funding strategy, it's a specifically a 2 cent charge for every mile that a person drives in San Diego county. We've known about this charge as part of the plan for months, if not years. And I can't recall you ever expressing any doubt or skepticism about it. Why did you wait until the week before for the plan was up for a vote to suddenly oppose this charge?

Speaker 15: (16:57)

I certainly have had concerns about how this is implemented. I think that there are really basic questions about how, uh, a fee of this kind would be assessed, how it would be done fairly and equitably and whether or not we could answer those questions on a, on the timeframe of this existing plan. I believe that, uh, the recent passage a, of the bipartisan infrastructure bill at the federal level will provide us some relief when it comes to funding the projects that are envisioned in the plan. And I believe that staff, uh, have it, uh, the ability, uh, to present the board with other options on a go forward basis, uh, make no mistake, you know, as support the regional transportation plan. I believe it's necessary for us to adopt it on Friday in order to make sure that we, we continue to be able to be competitive for state and federal funding.

Speaker 15: (17:37)

Uh, so that's, that's important. Uh, but I think with, with a funding source, uh, like a, a road user charge where we have a lot of questions about how it would actually be assessed, whether or not it could be assessed on the timeframe of the plan. And importantly, the context we find ourselves in, where we are struggling to, uh, escape a pandemic, uh, and the resulting economic challenges that have come from it. I think we would do ourselves a service to, uh, take into account other new funding sources that have come, uh, into focus in recent weeks. I believe we have some other options here locally that will help us to make this plan a reality for San Diego.

Speaker 14: (18:10)

Transportation is really the crux of whether San Diego succeeds or fails at the climate action plan goals that you yourself have had such a key role in crafting. Of course, transportation's the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions here. Do you think that we can meet those goals that you're setting and by the way, they're 50% all trips in the city being via something other than a car. Can we meet those goals with all carrots and no sticks? In other words, incentives to bike walk or take public transit, but no disincentives to driving.

Speaker 15: (18:42)

I think it's gonna take a lot to make these, uh, ambitious goals and never been unclear on that in terms of the methods that we will use to get it there. I mean, this plan continues to have, um, a lot of options inside of it, but I would caution anyone from believing that the regional transportation plan by itself is how we will achieve our climate action plan goals. This is gonna require the city, uh, to, through its planning and development services department, to provide more housing, uh, close to transit. Uh, it's gonna require our streets department to take a more proactive approach in the installation of bike lanes. Like what you've seen on Persing on 30th street and north park and portions of downtown, it's gonna take an all hands on deck approach. It's not just the responsibility of SANDAG. It's gonna be the responsibility of the air pollution control district of MTS, of the city of San Diego, the county of San Diego.

Speaker 15: (19:28)

What I like about our, of actually reaching these goals is the fact that in many of these agencies, we have an alignment in terms of our philosophies, our belief, uh, that climate change is real and that we must take action on it. Um, and so while the goals are certainly ambitious, I think the leadership is up to the task and we have made, I think, modest steps in this direction in just the last year. I think we can take more aggress of steps in the year head and a new regional transportation plan certainly will help, but it is not the entirety of how we will meet our obligations under the climate action plan.

Speaker 14: (19:58)

Where are you most looking forward to in 22,

Speaker 15: (20:01)

I'm hopeful that we can get into a place, uh, where our vaccination rates are so high, uh, that COVID is seen as a manageable illness and that we can devote all of our time and attention to things that I'm passionate about. I am like most San Diegos unhappy with the current state of affairs when it comes to homelessness, we need to transition more people off of our streets and into housing. I think in the coming days and weeks, uh, you'll see an expansion of shelter opportunities, the allocation of more dollars for more affordable housing, uh, for these folks, uh, a really anxious to a tremendous progress on that issue. And then to transition to my homes for all of us proposal, uh, which is a series of, of reforms that we believe will create more housing for everybody. But particularly for those in San Diego who earn too much to qualify for the programs that we offer through our housing commission, but don't earn enough to afford the market rate housing.

Speaker 15: (20:51)

That seems to be plentiful in San Diego. That's where our focus is. And I believe that we'll be having some key votes, uh, on that policy package early in 2022, the sooner we can implement those, the quicker we can actually start bringing housing on online, that people can afford the, that is what motivates me to do this job every day. Uh, I'm proud to be the mayor of my hometown. I'm delighted to pick up everyone's garbage once a week. Um, but I'm really here to try and drive change when it comes to issue of housing and homelessness. And I believe that, uh, with, uh, a pandemic more under control, uh, we'll have more time, attention and, uh, resources to do that. I've

Speaker 14: (21:25)

Been speaking with San Diego mayor, Todd, Gloria, Mr. Mayor. Thank you. And happy holidays.

Speaker 1: (21:29)

Same to you, Andrew. And that was K PBS Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen speaking with San Diego mayor Todd, Gloria. And that's it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch K PBS midday edition at noon on K PBS radio or trick out the midday edition podcast. You can also watch KPBS evening edition at five o'clock on KPBS television. And as always you can find more San Diego news I'm Anna Culbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

Speaker 16: (22:28)

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The California Public Utilities Commission is close to unveiling changes that could make installing rooftop solar more expensive for consumers. Meanwhile, a local environmental group says people are harassing the sea lions in La Jolla. And, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria talks about his first year in office and what’s ahead in year two.