SAN FRANCISCO – The Environmental Working Group filed comments urging California regulators to drop a harebrained proposal to wreck the state’s popular rooftop solar policy. The program gives working- and middle-class families the financial benefits of residential rooftop solar.
The comments criticize the regulators for floating changes to the clean energy program that would largely benefit the state’s three monopoly utilities, including Pacific Gas & Electric. The plan would put rooftop solar out of reach for many households.
The comments were submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC. Written by EWG President and Co-founder Ken Cook, they knock regulators for caving to the demands of power companies that have for years tried to strangle solar because it is their only competition for generating electricity.
Solar is an abundant, clean energy source that helps people and businesses cut costly energy bills – a scary prospect for utilities, since more solar means less profit for them. The comments argue the commission should strengthen the program by ensuring it accounts for and promotes the benefits of a forward-looking, decentralized power grid that embraces clean energy.
“It’s incredible that the state with the nation’s most ambitious record of advancing renewable energy and climate crisis relief is seeking to crush its own rooftop solar program,” said Cook in a statement separate from the formal comments.
The CPUC proposal is flawed for a host of reasons, such as not analyzing how solar helps make electricity more affordable and equitable, Cook said in his comments and in a July 2021 filing with the commission.
Cook wrote that the CPUC:
has yet to properly assess the value of solar plus storage, presents a sudden and drastic change to the export rate, ignores the increasing participation of working families in the rooftop solar market, and has prioritized protecting the current utility-scale business model rather than focusing in on a balanced approach that enhances electric bill affordability and system resiliency.
The commission proposes slashing by 75 percent, over a five-year period, the incentives solar customers get for the surplus energy they generate and sell back to the grid. The credits are a critical component of the current net-metering program that allows budget-conscious families to keep their monthly electric bills low.
The deep cuts to the monthly credits would be the most severe of any such changes to residential solar programs in the U.S. and would hit working- and middle-class families the hardest. They would see the chance to cut their bills with solar slip away, just as electricity bills in California – some of the highest in the country – keep rising.
Utilities claim solar benefits only rich households, who then “shift” the costs of solar onto other ratepayers, an argument EWG dismantles in its comments to the CPUC.
Cook called on Gov. Gavin Newsom, who selected the members of the technically independent CPUC, to reverse course on this disastrous plan.
“Gov. Newsom should call on these hand-picked regulators to make the changes to the proposal that will allow everyday Californians to adopt residential solar,” said Cook.
Days after the CPUC issued its proposed decision, Cook and five leading clean energy and environmental justice leaders held a virtual rally to save California’s popular and successful rooftop solar program, urging the state to expand access to solar.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) 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.