EWG: Plan to crush California rooftop solar ignores ‘sound alternatives, violates state and federal law’

SAN FRANCISCO – Environmental Working Group in new comments is blasting a plan by California’s investor-owned utilities and regulators to impose a steep tax on residential solar, saying the plan ignores clean energy alternatives and could face legal challenges.

In the comments, submitted on July 1, 2022, to the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC, EWG President and Bay Area resident Ken Cook wrote:

The tone of the Commission throughout this proceeding comes across as decidedly one-sided and narrow in its conception of equity in energy policy. Up to this point in the proceeding, there does not seem to be any recognition of the state’s climate and renewables goals and how critically important distributed solar plus storage is to achieving those goals.

Nor has the Commission appeared interested in recognizing the salient sources of high utility bills in California – namely, the emphasis on utility-scale investment, particularly power lines, fire damage costs shifted to the public, and an overly inflated return on investment awarded to utility companies.

These issues have been raised by EWG and other parties throughout this proceeding. However, like other parties to this proceeding, EWG remains convinced that the state cannot hope to meet its climate and renewable energy goals without a robust distributed solar market. We remain unconvinced that state law suggests otherwise or that customer-owned solar, as purported by the investor-owned utilities (IOUs) and Proposed Decision (PD), represents some enormous financial burden to the power system or non-solar customers.

In January, Gov. Gavin Newsom criticized a draft version of the proposal that could decimate rooftop solar, known as NEM 3.0, released by the CPUC just one month earlier. The proposal was negotiated behind closed doors with lobbyists for Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

The proposal would have eliminated financial incentives for residents who install rooftop solar and replaced them with a steep solar tax of around $50 per month. This would drastically cut payments households could receive for solar generation, pricing the clean energy source out of reach for millions of working-class and low-income households.

The CPUC shelved NEM 3.0 in February, after the enormous pushback the commission and Gov. Newsom got from clean energy and environmental justice advocates, as well as the state’s solar industry, which employs tens of thousands of people.  

EWG’s new written comments respond to a May 9, 2022, request by a CPUC administrative law judge seeking additional input on several specific aspects of NEM 3.0, including the plan to impose a monthly tax on solar customers. Experts believe the tax would clearly violate state and federal law by discriminating between solar and non-solar customers. Cook said:

The legal traps woven through the PD and the newly proposed behind-the-meter charges are apparent. They have not gone unnoticed by multiple parties. The Commission must now weigh the prospects of legal challenges on a variety of fronts or reassess the situation and engage in productive discussions that will result in a just and fair resolution for ratepayers.

Urging, prodding and presenting sound alternatives seems to have failed. And the largest distributed solar market in the country cannot fail if affordability, serious attention to climate change, and power system resiliency are to be the order of day on a national level. That responsibility now rests fully with the state of California.

Cook’s entire comments to the CPUC can be found here.

Protect Solar Energy in California!


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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