California must do more to bring solar to all communities

For more than 20 years, GRID Alternatives has been working to make clean energy accessible to environmental and economic justice communities in California, using a people-first model that puts money back into families’ pockets and creates jobs. Our top priority is to ensure that tangible benefits of clean energy are truly accessible to all. For that reason, we join the chorus of voices opposing the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) proposal to change a state solar program in a way that would exclude millions of California residents from being able to access the benefits of solar energy.

While the details of the proposed net energy metering decision at the CPUC may be complex, our bottom line is not: a plan that makes it more expensive for Environmental and Social Justice Communities to choose clean energy is not grounded in equity, and will not get California closer to meeting its climate goals.

Local solar is a critical tool in the country’s efforts to address climate change and also creates community benefits including jobs, energy resiliency when paired with storage, preservation of open space, and reduction of harmful pollutants. The proposed plan before the CPUC is important for anyone in California that may want to adopt solar or pair that solar with a storage system on their home, including the communities where GRID works. As written, the plan would charge some clients between $40-$60 monthly to access the solar energy generated on their own roof! And while the proposed plan does include other urgently needed funding for low-income communities through a $600 million dollar Equity Fund, and exempts some customers from the monthly charge, the details of the rest of the proposal widens the renewable energy access gap, and would ultimately create more harm than good.

One change we have recommended is the need for a broader definition of which communities are eligible for protection from charges. Right now, the proposal provides protections for customers eligible for utility bill discount programs, tribal households, or clients living in Disadvantaged Communities. However, if the definition of low-income isn’t broadened, we estimate the proposed plan could prevent over two million households (or roughly six million California residents) from ever adopting on-site clean energy. Therefore, the communities that are not currently eligible would face even more barriers to adopting solar or storage. This needs to change.

Even with the protections afforded to income-qualified households, the monthly bill savings will be lower than what customers experience today. The current NEM proposal uses inaccurate costs and this part of the plan can and needs to be updated. GRID has, and will, continue to urge the CPUC to revise the proposal to adopt policies that provide more protection and certainty to economic and environmental justice communities. 

We need more rooftop and community-owned solar, not less. Less solar also means fewer jobs, and we simply cannot support a proposal that would diminish life-changing solar career opportunities. We appreciate the Governor’s recent statement that the proposed decision needs work and we agree! 

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