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Are California Regulators Waiting To Crush Rooftop Solar Until After The Election?

Courtesy of the Environmental Working Group

SAN FRANCISCO — Fearing voter backlash, California regulators may hold off issuing their proposed decision on a utility proposal to stifle the state’s rooftop solar program until after the November election, according to an October 3 email bulletin from the San Diego–based nonprofit Solar Rights Alliance, citing credible sources.

“Californians deserve to know now what regulators are proposing for the future of rooftop solar in the state,” said EWG President and Bay Area resident Ken Cook. “So many vital decisions about the state’s energy are made behind closed doors, with regulators cozied up to corporate interests they’re supposed to regulate, it makes sense to worry that bad news for rooftop solar is coming after the election.”

“But that would be an affront to the tens of thousands of Californians who have fought so hard to save the solar program from the utility profit grab,” Cook said.

The California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC, was expected to announce a decision at the end of September in its long-running proceeding known as net metering 3.0. The commission has already postponed the decision once, following a public uproar against its initial, pro-utility proposal, which Gov. Gavin Newsom himself acknowledged last January needed revisions.

Pacific Gas & Electric and the state’s two other big investor-owned utilities are pressing regulators to impose steep new fees designed to curb the rooftop solar installations that have become wildly popular in the state and created an industry that now employs over 60,000 Californians.

Rooftop solar provides consumers with clean, cheap power and protection against utility blackouts that have become common in California. But the rooftop solar boom threatens to upend the utilities’ highly profitable monopoly control of the state’s electricity. And they have aggressively lobbied regulators and politicians to throttle the competitive threat of consumer-owned power generation.

The CPUC issued its original proposal to approve the utility-backed plan almost a year ago but quickly withdrew it after widespread outcry. At that time, tens of thousands of citizens, and the Solar Rights Alliance — made up of more than 600 environmental justice, clean energy and consumer watchdog advocacy groups — warned the plan would make solar unaffordable for working-class families.

The rooftop solar program is the only source of competition the big three investor-owned utilities face. Cook and EWG officially intervened in the proceeding before the CPUC in June 2021, urging regulators to reject the power companies’ proposal.

The rooftop solar program is one of the most successful clean energy and climate policies ever adopted in the U.S. Because of its incentives, there are now rooftop solar panels on more than 1.3 million homes, small businesses and other structures in California.

On October 11, the Solar Rights Alliance and other organizations will hold a rally at the steps of the state capital in Sacramento, calling on the CPUC and Newsom to reject the utilities’ plot.

Related: Why Rooftop Solar Power Investments Are Worth It, & Why California Solar Net Metering Might Not Be Fair — Competing Op-Eds

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