Gov. Newsom’s clean air regulators prioritize rooftop solar expansion in California climate action plan

SAN FRANCISCO – California’s top clean air regulators this week released a proposed plan to fight the climate crisis by cutting carbon dioxide emissions, with policy priorities including an effort to expand rooftop solar throughout the state.

The 11-point “Strategies for Achieving Success” draft plan responds to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request for the California Air Resources Board, or CARB, to identify strategies for eventually making the state carbon neutral. On page 164 of the plan, CARB says:

  • Target programs and incentives to support and improve access to renewable and zero-carbon energy projects (e.g., rooftop solar, community solar, battery storage, and microgrids) for communities most at need, including frontline, low-income, rural, and indigenous communities.­

CARB emphasizes its support of the incentives residents and small business owners in the state receive from the popular net metering program, which lets people sell back to the grid the excess power their rooftop solar generates. But the air regulators also note they don’t have jurisdiction over how to structure those incentives.

Instead, regulators with the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC, have that authority – and they’re considering a scheme submitted by the state’s three monopoly utilities that would stifle solar by making the clean energy source unaffordable for millions of working-class families.

“Gov. Newsom should listen to the state’s top clean air officials, not the utility-captured electricity regulators, and use his authority to protect the state’s rooftop solar program,” said EWG President and California resident Ken Cook.

“It is imperative the governor reject the plot by utilities to undermine one of the main pillars of CARB’s roadmap to ensure renewable energy is the dominate source of electricity in the state. Anything less would send a clear signal that felonious, corrupt companies like PG&E can decelerate California’s progress in addressing the climate crisis,” he said.

Cook notes the plan falls short in other areas, including the decision by CARB to set a carbon-neutral goal of 2045, rejecting Newsom’s more ambitious target of 2035. The plan also would continue a reliance on natural gas as a “transition fuel.”

“Parts of the proposal are clearly inadequate and must be addressed before the board votes on the final plan,” said Cook. “The urgency of the climate crisis makes it essential that regulators move as quickly as possible to slash greenhouse gas emissions. The state, the nation and the entire planet are running out of time.”

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Clean air officials at odds with state’s electricity regulators

CARB’s embrace of the rooftop solar program and the incentives it provides to consumers could put the board on a collision course with the CPUC, which late last year was poised to support the utility-backed plan to crush the state’s successful renewable energy initiative.  The commission temporarily shelved the proposal after it received considerable blowback from clean energy and environmental justice advocates.

At the time, Newsom offered his own criticism of the plan, telling reporters at a news conference that the CPUC had more work to do on the proposal.

In California, there are now rooftop solar panels on more than 1.4 million homes, small businesses and other structures, because of the state’s rooftop solar program incentives. Put in place in 2006, they made it affordable for working- and middle-class communities.

But millions of residents may no longer be able to afford to install solar, if the CPUC backs the plan from PG&E and the other two monopoly investor-owned electric utilities.

The utilities see residential rooftop solar as their only source of competition in California. They are pressuring regulators to adopt their plan to eliminate incentives, replacing 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, putting the energy source out of reach for millions of working-class residents.

The CPUC opened a new comment period this week on various aspects of the program. But the questions posed by the commission do not target the core issues being raised by opponents of the proposal, including that the cost-shift from solar to non-solar customers asserted by the monopoly utility companies is vastly overstated and likely nearly non-existent. Customer-owned rooftop solar has saved all utility customers billions of dollars in additional costs, which is why PG&E and its cohorts have mounted an all-out assault on solar generation they do not own.

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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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