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Mission critical: CPUC can (finally) meet its mission by saving rooftop solar incentives

Revision of California’s rooftop solar program has received more guest essay submissions than any other issue in history. Here is a link to those pieces. Below Bay area residents Susannah Saunders and Rebecca Elliot share their unique perspective. Both are members of the Progressive advocacy group Indivisible. Saunders’ home chapter is Indivisible Ross Valley and Elliot’s Indivisible San Jose.

The California Public Utilities Commission serves the public interest by protecting consumers and ensuring the provision of safe, reliable utility service and infrastructure at reasonable rates with a commitment to environmental enhancement and a healthy California economy.”

This is the mission statement of the California Public Utilities Commission [CPUC], which for at least the last decade, it has failed to meet in spectacular fashion. In the process, it has failed most California residents and businesses. We don’t say this flippantly, but the facts are under the CPUC’s watch California utilities have wreaked an amazing amount of pain and havoc on our great state through deadly fires, regular power outages and skyrocketing rates.

In contrast, California’s very successful rooftop solar program has converted roughly a million roofs to solar energy, and the commission faces a major crossroads with its long-delayed decision about how to revise this very successful program. Will it continue incentives so more Californians can reduce climate change, their energy bills and electrical demand on an often overloaded grid? Or does the CPUC again ignore its mission and take a wrecking ball to one of California’s greatest success stories in order to help corporate energy interests maximize their bottom lines?

The optimist in us would like to think the five voting commissioners on the CPUC wish like most Californians to vigorously combat global warming and the frequency of utility-caused wildfires. But our inner pessimist can’t ignore how often the CPUC has ignored its own mission. So let’s take a closer look at key elements of that mission statement:

SAFETY — We don’t feel safe. Do you? According to NPR’s Stephanie Sy, “PG&E has set off 31 wildfires, killing 113 Californians, burning nearly 1.5 million acres, and destroying almost 24,000 structures. The utility is blamed for some of the biggest fires in the state’s history, including the Dixie Fire in Northern California, which burned more than 963,000 acres and destroyed 1,300 structures.”

REASONABLE RATES — Does any Californian feel they are paying a “reasonable rate” for their energy? Every year and sometimes twice, the utilities ask for high rate increases. For example the San Jose Mercury News noted in April about PG&E, “The average monthly bill charge from PG&E for residential electricity and gas service is now 14% higher for the typical customer than it was at the end of 2021.”

And keep in mind, these rate increases were requested and approved before our current inflationary rate of 8.6%.

Healthy economy — These high energy bills mean consumers have less money to spend, and too many businesses are struggling under the weight. And don’t forget the damage rolling blackouts cause to businesses and homes.

Further, the CPUC is again proposing a solar tax that would gut the rooftop solar industry and the 70,000 jobs it creates. Why is the CPUC considering such an incomprehensible action when, right now, we need to triple rooftop solar to address the climate crisis? You have to ask them, but it doesn’t seem to be in our personal or economic best interest.

PROTECTING CUSTOMERS — Atop the “About the CPUC” web page, the CPUC amplifies on this part of its mission by asserting its dedication to “protecting against fraud.”

But consider this fraud: The utilities repeatedly argue rooftop solar is responsible for the rise in energy prices. This is a flat-out lie. The idea that one million solar rooftops selling energy back to the grid (out of tens of millions of individual household and business customers) led to the above rate increases is as ridiculous as it is fraudulent.

To meet California’s climate change goal for reduced CO2 reduction, the state needs wide adoption of both zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) and rooftop solar generation. Adding an unwarranted monthly utility charge on just one of these (rooftop solar) while ignoring the revenue boon utilities are reaping from the other (ZEVs) only rewards the utilities’ fraudulent claims.

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The reality is California needs more and more rooftop capacity if it is to have enough local generation needed to power all those ZEVs. Without such added capacity, we risk even more rolling blackouts at peak times and wildfire risk from even more transmission lines.

So Gov. Gavin Newsom must intervene as soon as possible. The message is simple: Hands off our solar panels. Don’t let them tax away what little power we have left. No now, not ever. Investing in solar panels is one of the most effective tools we have to fight climate change, reduce wildfire risk, and combat inflated energy costs.

Share your opinion today by calling the governor’s office at (916) 445-2841 and email here. Contact the CPUC at 800-649-7570 and online here.

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