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Gov. Newsom: A ‘Solar Tax’ Threatens Your Climate Legacy

Esperanza Vielma, Ambrose Carroll and Francisco Moreno are founders of the Coalition for Environmental Equity and Economics (CEEE) and together represent a large portion of the environmental justice, Black Church and immigrant communities of California. Vielma also serves as executive director of the Stockton-based Environmental Justice Coalition for Water; Carroll is an Oakland pastor and executive director of Green the Church; and Moreno is executive director of the L.A.-based Council of Mexican Federations in North America (COFEM).

Can you imagine the moment at a potential Democratic Party presidential primary debate when Gov. Gavin Newsom touts his apparent groundbreaking record on climate change, but one of his opponents responds with, “Governor Newsom, I know climate justice activists. I have worked with climate justice activists and Governor Solar Tax. You’re no climate warrior.”

A stretch? An exaggeration? Not really. If President Biden decides to pass the torch to a new generation of Democratic Party leadership, Newsom will no doubt be a leading contender. But here is Newsom’s climate conundrum. In December, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) controversially proposed to implement the only solar tax in the nation and significantly scale back the solar credit for California solar consumers that is called net energy metering (NEM). To be clear, this “solar tax” would not add revenue to California’s general fund, but instead go directly to big utility coffers to bump up their profits.

So if Gov. Newsom lets this happen, then that snarky debate line will no doubt go from cue card to cutting zinger.

In addition, it is our understanding the CPUC may release its new NEM proposal as soon this coming Monday, Nov. 7. That’s right: possibly the day before the Nov. 8 general election, which would seem almost designed to guarantee as little media coverage and public awareness as possible.

If a solar tax remains part of this proposal, this will seriously undercut Newsom’s claims that the $54 billion climate package he signed into law in September was “the boldest, most comprehensive, and most significant climate policy of anywhere in the world.”

To be sure, Gov. Newsom can and should be applauded for critical initiatives to advance California’s goal of achieving 90% clean energy by 2035. But the truth is that Gov. Newsom cannot make these claims with a straight face if he allows the CPUC to implement a NEM 3.0 regulation that rewards the monopoly investor-owned utilities (IOUs) at the expense of California consumers, their public health, and all of our climate future. That move would halt the growth of our nation’s most dynamic and expansive rooftop solar market here in California.

Today, more than 1.5 million homes, churches, schools, and businesses have installed rooftop solar, which generates roughly the same amount of power as six Diablo Canyon nuclear power plants. Yet with all this clean energy on California’s grid, the CPUC proposed halting that progress in its tracks by caving to the greed of the monopoly utilities like PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E.

Although in May Newsom proclaimed rooftop solar “essential” to California’s future, that promise appears a conundrum wrapped in political rhetoric inside our climate reality. The CPUC’s existing proposal would slap rooftop solar customers with a tax of up to $600 a year that would go directly to the utilities. Pressured by IOU lobbying, the CPUC also stood ready to drastically slash the credit rooftop solar customers receive for exporting excess energy to the grid. Think about that. We’re talking about a proposal that would benefit the world’s largest utilities while sticking it to working Californians who have invested in Green energy. How does that make sense? Newsom would be rewarding those who caused the climate crisis and punishing those investing in solving that crisis.

There are positive signs. After public outcry earlier this year, Newsom instructed the CPUC to go back to the drawing board, and they did just that. That was a smart and necessary move. Over the past five years, rooftop solar has accounted for half of all new solar in California. So onsite solar energy is a technology that’s not only effective but also embraced by California consumers as a clean and affordable alternative to the IOU's outdated energy model.

So Gov. Newsom: A Green Revolution led by distributed energy and rooted in rooftop solar makes the most sense for California’s working and underserved communities. That’s because we simply cannot achieve ambitious climate, environmental, and economic justice goals without a robust rooftop solar market. The federal incentives contained in President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act New will make going solar even easier and more affordable. So now is the time to expand, not deflate, rooftop solar growth.

As a proclaimed climate champion, Gov. Newsom, please don’t put the avarice of monopoly utilities ahead of the best interests of working Californians. These families are doing their part to support our clean energy transition. The big utilities’ purported concern about their social equity is hollow. Based on their actions in influencing the CPUC’s NEM 3.0 decision, their only concern is to keep ratepayer costs high so they can pocket more profit.

A final message to Gov. Newsom: the grassroots activism against the CPUC’s proposed unfair and shortsighted NEM 3.0 Solar tax has been one of the most far-reaching and diverse social movements in California's history. We are proud to be part of that important historical movement. To be a true climate warrior, you should respond to the people's will with not just words and rhetoric but deeds and action.

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