News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Are CA Utilities Anti-Solar Energy? New Group Makes Sure They Won't Be

Rooftop solar | Photo: h080/Flickr/Creative Commons License

You'd think California's investor-owned utilities would be all for net metering: it provides them with a considerable amount of solar energy essentially for free, and keeps them from having to sink money into upgrading transmission. But they're fighting it tooth and nail, and a new group aims to challenge their stance.

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Now that the California Solar Initiative has run its course, net metering -- in which ratepayers with solar panels can run their electric meters back to zero, after which they provide utilities with free power for the rest of the billing cycle -- is one of just two remaining solar incentive programs in the state. (The other is the federal Investment Tax Credit for rooftop solar, set to expire in 2016, which lets homeowners apply 30 percent of their solar installation costs to their tax bills.)

But citing "unfairness" to ratepayers without solar panels, whom the state's investor-owned utilities claim are footing the grid expense bill for their solar neighbors, those companies are trying to clamp down on net metering in whatever way they can.

A January study by Crossborder Energy, commissioned by the group Vote Solar, handily rebutted utility claims, showing that net metered rooftop solar saves California ratepayers more money the more people install solar, with total savings of $90 million a year possible when the state reaches its absurdly low net metering cap of 5 percent of peak energy demand.

And now a new group has formed specifically to push back against those arguably spurious utility claims, and protect net metering. Californians Against Utilities Stopping Solar Energy (CAUSE), founded by Los Angeles area physicians Luis Pacheco and Deonza Thymes, is working to point out the benefits of net metering, and the solar boom it's helping to propel in California.

"Ending rooftop solar in California would be a disaster for local job growth and environmental sustainability," Pacheco said in a press release. "It would mean more carbon-emitting power sources and more dirty air. That's not a path toward the long-term wellness and economic health that our state needs."

"By trying to stop rooftop solar, utilities are betraying public health and economic benefits to protect their profits."

"I grew up in a part of Los Angeles that is affected disproportionately by dirty air," added Thymes. "I became a physician, in part, to help people with health conditions caused by pollutants. Now that we are making progress with solar, the utilities are trying to turn back the clock. They should be helping to give Californians the choice to go solar."

With net metering in place, the state has installed at least 1,400 megawatts of rooftop solar generating capacity. That's created more than 40,000 jobs, and generated about $10 billion in private investment in the last five years. According to CAUSE, two-thirds of California solar installations are taking place in low- and middle-income neighborhoods, which means lower utility bills and more disposable income for those Californians that most need it.

CAUSE doesn't seem to have a web site set up yet, but ReWire will be keeping tabs on their work.


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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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