SAN FRANCISCO – Californians are rising to the moment by conserving power to avoid the dire threat of blackouts facing the state’s electricity grid, and now it’s time for regulators to do their part by rejecting an energy industry plot to stifle rooftop solar.
The state is witnessing the worst heat wave in recorded history, according to media reports and the state’s grid operator. California’s Independent System Operator, or ISO, sent text alerts urging people to reduce demand on the grid by turning off appliances and lights, and the good news is Californians showed they’re up to the task.
Demand plummeted soon after the alerts went out, but citizens banding together is just an opening salvo in the fight against the climate crisis. To solve the problem of future grid stress and blackouts, we need officials to step up to the plate and embrace clean energy.
And it starts with them shielding solar from a plot by Pacific Gas & Electric, or PG&E, and two other monopoly utilities in the state trying to crush incentives, known as net-metering, that have helped get rooftop solar installed in many homes.
“The energy crisis everyone in California is bracing for can be avoided in the future if regulators block the profit-fueled plot by PG&E and the other monopoly-run utilities to crush residential solar,” said EWG President and California resident Ken Cook. “Eliminating the financial incentives that make rooftop solar possible for teachers, cops, construction workers and other hard-working residents of the state is unconscionable.”
In California, there are now rooftop solar panels on more than 1.3 million homes, small business operations and other structures, because of the state’s rooftop solar program incentives. Enacted in 2006, the incentives made solar affordable for working- and middle-class communities, and the clean energy generated helps tackle the climate crisis.
But millions of working-class residents could soon be unable to afford to install solar panels, if the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC, sides with the utilities’ plot.
This month, the CPUC is expected to announce its decision over the fate of the rooftop solar program.
The utilities consider residential rooftop solar their only source of competition in California. They are pressuring regulators to adopt their plot to eliminate incentives and replace them with a steep solar tax of around $60 per month on residents who install rooftop solar. The plan would drastically reduce the payments these households could receive for solar generation, essentially putting the energy source out of their reach.
“Protecting solar is just one part of what needs to be a grand strategic plan for transforming California’s energy and safeguarding it for generations to come,” said EWG’s Cook. “Californians answered the call when asked to conserve power. Now the burden is on state regulators to do their part and commit to a clean energy future.”
“We are seeing in real time the strength of California’s residents when they’re asked to come together and reduce power demand for the greater good,” said Cook. “Just imagine what we could achieve if the state and the utilities brought that same intensity to charting a comprehensive clean energy plan to ensure constant, reliable and renewable electricity for all.”
The path to electric system resiliency to keep the power on for homes and businesses, in the face of growing climate change impacts in the state, is with rooftop and community solar plus battery storage, more renewables like wind, and an end to fossil fuel power.
As Californians have witnessed many times recently, utility power plants and transmission systems are too vulnerable to heat and fires. If utilities convince state regulators to kill the country’s most robust rooftop solar market, rolling blackouts will continue to be the norm, no matter how hard residents are willing to fight.
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.