SAN FRANCISCO – In an op-ed published in the San Francisco Chronicle on Saturday, July 3, Environmental Working Group President and long-time Bay Area resident Ken Cook urged state regulators to save California’s popular rooftop solar program from a scheme to destroy it, crafted by Pacific Gas & Electric and two other investor-owned, monopoly utilities.
A high-stakes battle is under way over the future of rooftop solar energy in California. On one side: Current and future rooftop solar consumers in the nation’s leading solar state. On the other, the state’s big three investor-owned utilities – PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.
The utilities have petitioned the state Public Utilities Commission to slash by more than half the credit they must pay customers for excess energy generated by rooftop solar panels. They also want to charge new rooftop solar customers nearly $70 a month just to hook up to the grid.
If allowed to cut customers’ earnings and impose exorbitant additional monthly charges on new solar owners just to hook up to the companies’ sprawling power grids, the utilities would cripple rooftop solar and put the state’s ambitious climate goals out of reach. The scheme would also significantly set back the growth of smaller, local power grids, which are less likely to spark wildfires. The 2020 California wildfire season was one of the worst in history. And PG&E has been charged with crimes for its role in the devastating 2019 Kincade Fire in Sonoma County.
The 2018 Camp Fire, caused by unmaintained PG&E transmission lines, killed scores of people and destroyed the town of Paradise. The company ultimately pled guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter for the deaths of those who died because of the fire.
Cook and EWG recently submitted testimony before the PUC, calling on the commission to reject the proposal put forth by PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric and instead fundamentally reorder how it regulates electricity generation and distribution from the state’s powerful monopoly utilities.
In his op-ed, Cook explains why utility regulatory reform in California is so urgently needed:
The monopoly model gives utilities a captive customer base and a guaranteed profit on infrastructure. It’s a relic of the early 20th century, when the state wanted to give power companies incentives to rapidly extend service to everyone. We need a system that serves the modern public good.
The PUC should reject the petition and get to work fundamentally reinventing how investor-owned utilities are structured, with the goal of making rooftop solar the main source of electricity statewide and greatly expanding access to solar for lower-income communities and communities of color.
You can read Cook’s entire column here.
If you agree that California’s popular rooftop solar program should be left in place, please join EWG and call on the PUC and Gov. Gavin Newsom to protect rooftop solar and our clean energy future by adding your name to this petition.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.