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In Newsom-DeSantis rivalry, it’ll surprise who’s better on rooftop solar

Nick Pilch is an environmentalist and from 2014-2020 was a Council Member in the Bay Area town of Albany, Calif. This included serving as mayor in 2020.

Newsom vs. DeSantis? Thanks to a recent clever ad campaign by Newsom last month, political publications nationally speculated the two governors could go head-to-head in the 2024 presidential election. In Newsom’s cost-effective and strategic Florida ad, he declared that “freedom is under attack” in the Sunshine State, versus in California where “we still believe in freedom.”

The ads ran only on right-leaning Fox News in multiple Florida markets. He never mentions DeSantis by name, instead referencing “your Republican leaders” who he charged with “banning books, making it harder to vote, restricting speech in classrooms, even criminalizing women and doctors.” But DeSantis was clearly a major target.

It was a poignant list of attacks on freedoms. However there is one major vulnerability in Newsom’s tactic — energy independence. That’s because right now, DeSantis actually has Newsom beat in one key area: protecting the freedom of homeowners to more easily choose to convert to clean energy over monopoly utilities.

That’s because earlier this year, DeSantis shocked many by vetoing Florida House Bill 741 that overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the GOP-controlled State Legislature. The bill would have opened the doors for a rooftop solar tax and increase in utility fees, and DeSantis rejected it. Now, I rarely agree with anything DeSantis does. He’s the last person I’d expect to stand up for clean energy generation. Newsom is the first.

However in California, Newsom oversees the California Public Utilities Commission, a state agency which is currently proposing a solar tax of its own. Yet, unlike DeSantis, Newsom has yet to squash these proposed fees, despite the political advantages that lie ahead if he stands up for solar power and energy independence.

Furthermore, the investor-owned utilities pushing anti-solar rhetoric in California are awash with scandal. For example, Pacific Gas & Electric’s CEO most recently grabbed headlines for her exorbitant salary of more than $50 million in total compensation last year, dwarfing her peers’ pay. Meanwhile, PG&E is pushing rate hikes for the very customers paying this salary, with an expected hike of more than $700 per year for some customers, within the next two years. PG&E customers are also frequently plunged into blackouts due to outdated equipment.

Local politicians across the state have spoken out against the CPUC’s proposal, but only Newsom has control over the committee. Ironically, the CPUC is currently updating the language in the proposal, following public comment from Newsom that the draft could use some work and proving he does have power over the commission’s actions.

While the CPUC has yet to release its latest net energy metering (NEM) proposal, the last iteration proposed implementation of the highest solar fees in the country, at $400 to $600 per year. If history is any indication, the new proposal will bog down solar owners with fees large enough to eliminate any cost advantages to install the panels.

Gov. Newsom has a moral obligation to stand up and reject these fees. No other governor advocates for the climate and clean energy the way Newsom does. He just pledged $37.6 million to fight climate change. His California Comeback Plan emphasizes the need to increase solar. Yet, none of this will work without the very programs that protect solar energy and pave the way for the industry to expand with California leading the way.

If the governor is a man of his word, he’ll squash this solar tax nonsense and ensure Californians aren’t forced to pay PG&E more money just because they want to go solar.

This is perhaps the only area where Newsom can’t afford to be DeSantis’ antithesis, and Newsom certainly can’t fall behind DeSantis on promoting clean energy and customer-based generation. Newsom has shown himself to be a fierce protector of his constituents and the gorgeous state we live in. He’s established California as a leader in clean energy. I trust he’ll do the right thing and stand up to monopolistic utilities in the face of a freedom-crushing proposal.

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