California leads rooftop solar’s record first quarter, but power companies move to halt clean energy gains

SAN FRANCISCO – California’s enthusiasm for renewables led residential rooftop solar installations to a record high in the first quarter of 2022, finds an industry report, but a power company scheme in the state threatens to stymie this clean energy progress.

The analysis, by Wood Mackenzie for the Solar Energy Industries Association, also finds that commercial and utility-scale solar were hit hard due to supply chain constraints, a Department of Commerce probe into solar tariffs, and other challenges.

A total of 1.2 gigawatts of residential solar was installed across the U.S. in the first three months of the year, a 30 percent increase over the same period in 2021, the study says.

The report highlights the dramatic harm solar faces from efforts by Pacific Gas & Electric and other monopoly utilities to dismantle California’s popular rooftop solar program. The California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC, has delayed making a final decision about whether to approve the scheme, and the report says the delay makes the market more favorable for the growth of solar throughout the year.

“Solar is an affordable, viable clean energy tool that is consistently shown to lower energy bills, while also fighting the climate crisis,” said EWG President and California resident Ken Cook. “Confirmation by a leading industry analyst is helpful, but it’s also a stark warning about the dire future we face if the power companies succeed in stifling solar.”

California, Florida and Texas together achieved record capacity deployments and accounted for more than 50 percent of nationwide residential solar installed between January and March 2022, according to the industry analysis.

One of the main reasons for the record sales of residential solar installations in California and the other top states was rising electric utility bills, according to many of the industry players contacted by Wood Mackenzie analysts.

“California’s incentives for working- and middle-class families make rooftop solar accessible and are a driving force behind the record high solar capacity during the first quarter this year,” said Cook.

PG&E and the state’s two other big investor-owned utilities pose a threat to future gains, with their plan to eliminate rooftop solar financial incentives. They want to impose a steep tax of more than $50 a month on those who install solar panels.

“If the CPUC and Gov. Gavin Newsom allow the plot by the utilities to go through, it will crush the state’s rooftop solar program, making it available only to well-off families, and will eliminate tens of thousands of installer jobs,” said Cook.

“The resilience of the residential solar market in the state – even while utility-scale installations across the country have been hit hard – demonstrates how popular the current solar program is among the residents of California,” Cook added.

Utility-scale solar installation capacity decreased by 41 percent since the first quarter of 2021, the report finds. The drop was the result of continued supply chain disruptions related to the Covid-19 pandemic and the months-long investigation by the Department of Commerce into whether China is skirting tariffs by using other Asian countries, like Malaysia and Cambodia, as backdoor channels to get its solar panels into the U.S. market.

In an effort to bolster the domestic solar industry, President Joe Biden this week announced a two-year pause on tariffs for imported solar panels from China and other Asian countries. Biden also plans to use the Defense Production Act to boost investments in domestic renewable energy companies, including solar panel manufacturers. The move will provide financing through grants and loans to the industry.

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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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