Gov. Newsom says rooftop solar ‘essential’ for California’s future

SAN FRANCISCO – During a Friday press conference announcing a revised budget proposal that includes billions in new investments for California’s electricity grid, Gov. Gavin Newsom called rooftop solar “essential” to the state’s future.

Following his prepared remarks, a reporter asked Newsom about the highly charged battle over the fate of California’s “net metering” rooftop solar program, and whether he supports a proposal by the utilities to impose a monthly solar tax. The scheme, if approved, could put solar out of reach for millions of working-class residents.

“We look forward to working with, as we have, advocates [rooftop solar supporters] in this space and landing on an agreement where we can provide protection and support for an industry that is essential to our state’s future, and that’s rooftop solar,” Newsom said.

But he declined to say whether he supports or opposes the plan from Pacific Gas & Electric, or PG&E, and the other two monopoly power companies in the state.

“Although we appreciate Gov. Newsom’s rhetorical support for rooftop solar, it’s not enough,” said EWG President and California resident Ken Cook. “He must make clear to regulators and the utilities that any new proposal provides the essential incentive structure that will grow the program by allowing working-class families to afford it. And that doesn’t include any new tax on people who are already struggling to pay their bills.”

“Competition from rooftop solar may be kryptonite to PG&E and the other utilities, but it’s not for consumers. It’s the only way Californians will see their sky-high electric bills begin to fall and finally wrest control over the state’s energy future from these monopolies,” said Cook.

In January, Newsom criticized a draft proposal known as NEM 3.0, issued by the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC. The proposal was negotiated behind closed doors with lobbyists for PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

The NEM 3.0 proposal would eliminate financial incentives and replace them with a steep solar tax of around $50 per month on residents who install rooftop solar. This would drastically reduce the payments households could receive for solar generation, pricing the clean energy source out of reach for millions of low-income households.

The CPUC shelved NEM 3.0 in February, after Newsom blasted it a month earlier, when he said, “I’ll say this about the plan: We still have some work to do.”

On May 9, the CPUC announced it is “reopening the record” for its NEM 3.0 proceeding, seeking additional comments about certain portions of the plan. The comment period closes on June 24, pushing any final decision by regulators into July, at the earliest.

The CPUC said it is now considering “Non-bypassable charges on gross consumption” – a new solar tax proposal couched in opaque utility industry jargon.

An analysis by the Solar Rights Alliance, a coalition of more than 600 organizations fighting to protect the rooftop solar program, found this latest scheme by regulators would impose a yearly solar tax on residents of between $300 and $600.

“In both cases, the CPUC is proposing to tax people simply for investing in and using solar energy. This is exactly like taxing people who hang-dry their clothing instead of running the dryer. It’s absurd, it’s intrusive, and it violates every principle of conservation and responsible citizenship,” said the Solar Rights Alliance.

There are now rooftop solar panels on more than 1.4 million homes, small businesses and other structures, because of the state’s popular incentive program.

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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.

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