Rooftop solar program robs the poor – The Ukiah Daily Journal
Solar on rooftops has a role to play in the fight against climate change. But putting solar panels on every roof is an inefficient way to meet the state’s clean energy goals and lower our astronomical electricity rates.
The California Public Utilities Commission made a compelling case last week when it said the costs of the state’s rooftop solar incentive program – known as Net Energy Metering – significantly outweigh its benefits. The program is also unfair. California’s rooftop solar power program is a classic case of Robin Hood in reverse: it mainly benefits the rich at the expense of the poor.
On January 27, the PUC is expected to approve its proposal that would revise the rooftop solar incentive program and better balance the needs of the electricity grid, the environment and consumers.
In 2006, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger enacted the Million Solar Roofs initiative, setting the goal of building 1 million solar power systems statewide. California achieved this goal in 2019. Solar power now provides more than 20% of the state’s electricity supply, reducing its dependence on fossil fuels.
But the current cherished deal benefits wealthy homeowners at the expense of low-income neighborhoods. California will not serve as a model for the world on how best to reduce emissions if it does so in a costly and unfair way.
Solar rooftop owners benefit from the sale of any excess energy generated by their systems. Right now, the state pays owners of solar installations an average of 25 cents per kilowatt hour while it can purchase electricity from solar farms for just 3 cents per kilowatt hour.
Rooftop solar plant owners also do not pay the fixed costs to utilities to maintain the state’s electricity grid, distribute electricity, mitigate the impact of wildfires, and invest in new technologies. This burden falls on the rest of the electricity consumers. Renters and people of color living in the poorest areas pay around $ 200 more per year per household on their electricity bills to cover the cost of benefits enjoyed by solar roof owners.
The PUC’s proposal would roll back the incentive program, creating a more equitable law. It would be:
• Require new solar customers to participate in covering grid maintenance costs.
• Reduce the rate paid to solar roof owners for excess electricity generated by their systems from about 25 cents to about 5 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity.
• Establish a $ 600 million equity fund to help low-income neighborhoods gain better access to green energy.
• Extend the break-even point – commonly referred to as the “payback period” – to offset the costs of new customers installing solar panels on rooftops from the current five years to around 10 years.
The rooftop solar industry is lobbying the CPUC, the legislature and Governor Gavin Newsom to keep the current system.
But if we are subsidizing solar energy to meet our climate goals, we should do so in a cost-effective and equitable manner. The current system fails this test.