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Rooftop solar advice for Gov. Newsom from low-income solar installer

California’s Net Energy Metering program (NEM) has encouraged about 9% of the state’s electrical ratepayers to install solar systems on more than 1 million roofs. Last year, electric utilities pushed for legislation to lower the NEM incentives and make rooftop solar less cost-effective for consumers. Solar rooftop advocates defeated this last June, which pushed the issue to California’s Public Utility Commission (PUC).

The PUC at first proposed a revised plan that solar advocates said would also de-incentivize new solar rooftops. Gov. Gavin Newsom then requested more public input be taken, and a final PUC decision is soon expected, including by Elizabeth Galante, senior vice president for PosiGen Solar. This Louisiana-based rooftop solar installer for low-income customers had hoped to begin serving low-income California families next year but is awaiting whether PUC’s revised incentives structure will be financially feasible.

Since the day our New Orleans-based solar company opened its doors, we have eagerly looked beyond our borders in order to bring our “Solar for All” approach to low-income residents of other states including California. We have kept a close eye on the recent debates around the country over net metering and policies that promote wider adoption of rooftop solar. We were heartened, albeit surprised, by the Florida Governor’s decision to support consumers in their desire to lower their energy costs through rooftop solar.

But we were dismayed when we learned that the California PUC continues to consider a proposal that not only drastically cuts electricity rates credited to customers who deliver their excess energy back to the grid but punishes new solar rooftop participants with a huge monthly tax simply for having solar panels on their roof.

As a company which serves low- to moderate-income households every day, the justification proposed for this proposed pullback of incentives – helping low-income families who were purportedly left out of the solar revolution – makes no sense to us. These kinds of draconian anti-solar policies typically come from utilities or anti-climate change think tanks, not the state of California. The PUC will soon release an updated proposal. It is now the California governor’s turn to do what’s best for the consumer, particularly the low-income consumer. PosiGen Solar is a small but fast-growing company that has installed solar panels and energy-efficiency upgrades on more than 22,000 rooftops. Our business model is designed specifically to provide low-income and working families with affordable access to solar power and all the benefits that come with distributed clean energy, including not just green electrons but also healthier, more comfortable homes and local job creation. Our work is helping low-income families save money (with no credit check requirements or income thresholds) and enabling them to join the urgent fight against climate change. We do this by offering 100% financing to 100% of rooftop solar-feasible homeowners for a 20-year, monthly fixed-price solar lease that includes all costs of annual insurance, maintenance, repairs and monitoring. We have no minimum income or credit score, and all customers get the same pricing based upon system size, not financial status. Our only requirements are that the customer owns their home and that our calculations show that we can leave them net positive financially throughout the length of the lease.

In all markets, our average customer is net positive after paying us more than $500 per year. In solar policy supportive states like Connecticut, our average customer is net positive by more than $1,300 per year, as demonstrated by an independent analysis conducted for the Connecticut Green Bank of our customers’ savings.

In addition, because the dollars saved are spent locally, the communities we serve benefit more broadly, especially because we hire – for sales, warehouse, installation, and customer care roles – directly from those very same neighborhoods.

We are inspired by the recent growth in rooftop solar installations for lower income Californians, and as someone who has spent the past decade with PosiGen with a laser focus on ensuring that low-income families have equal access to rooftop solar, I can assure you that these same families will suffer the most if California undermines the programs that should allow every Californian to go solar at home. That is because it will not be financially feasible for companies like ours to enter the California market at scale if the incentives are so drastically rolled back. Then without companies like ours, many low-income households will be unable to afford the large upfront investment in solar panels.

We support the idea of democratizing energy. We support inclusiveness. That’s what programs like net energy metering can do, and that’s why we got into this business. It’s what California should continue doing – not to help out a business like ours, but rather to allow businesses like ours to help California’s low-income consumers continue to realize their dreams of experiencing the benefits of their own solar power, not to mention help California meet its important and ambitious climate goals.

But when critical policy decisions like this are tied to a mistaken notion that the poor are paying to support rich rooftop solar customers, there are consequences. Those consequences impact all solar customers, especially those with lower incomes. Given that business models like PosiGen’s – focused on breaking down the barriers to solar access – are only just now getting to scale, it is heartbreaking to see California on the verge of stepping away from being a national and world leader for solar solutions that put power in the hands of the people. It is particularly disconcerting to see California move away from encouraging renewables at a time when other forms of energy are proving even more complicated and risk-prone.

We hope that the PUC and governor thoroughly reconsider the proposed decision so that low-income and working families across the state can consider joining the solar revolution. If so, we’ll be there to help them, and California, deliver on that promise.

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