Solar power is about to be devalued in the most unexpected of states — California. After a year of severe weather, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) announced it is still considering reducing the value of residential rooftop solar by 75%. The latest version of the commission’s Net Energy Metering proposed decision severely disincentivizes new homeowners from installing solar. As local leaders, we know that much of the ability to make a lasting impact on climate lies in the hands of elected officials like us and Gov. Gavin Newsom. What the CPUC is considering is the wrong direction and could set back local and state clean energy efforts.
Despite California’s position as an environmental leader, the CPUC’s proposal could decimate the rooftop solar market right when our climate, and our wallets, need it most. What’s worse, California communities have advocated against the counterproductive proposal since its first iteration last year. Representing our constituents, we joined with more than 100 local government officials urging Gov. Newsom to reject the solar tax. Californians eagerly awaited the recently revised version and, while it’s better than the earlier iteration, the proposed decision still reduces the value of solar power and makes it harder to pay off home installations. Moreover, it would still make installing solar on the rooftops of schools and places of worship all but impossible.
Ratepayers don’t want solar devalued, and they’re saying so in surveys, at rallies, and through their consumption decisions. Data shows Californians, regardless of party or demographic, overwhelmingly support solar power and oppose the CPUC’s plans to make it more expensive. Small solar businesses create job opportunities, often for local veterans, women, and BIPOC members of our community. Places of worship use solar power for both economic and safety purposes; California has more churches using rooftop solar than any other state.
The demand for home solar installation is highest in California, and we only expect it to grow as energy costs continue to increase. As we’ve watched this solar boom on a local level, we’ve noticed real economic benefits, even now as energy prices grow more unpredictable.
Lower-income Californians benefit greatly from solar power availability; it’s finally an affordable asset. Working and middle-class neighborhoods make up 42% of the rooftop solar market. But the CPUC’s proposed decision could reverse years of progress.
Frontline communities are also disproportionately affected by grid outages and, as the climate crisis worsens, these disruptions are expected to be widespread across demographics. One home and battery system serves as a backup generator for a household. Thousands can offset a gas-burning power plant. Neither is negligible, as we face more frequent extreme weather, for which the traditional electric power grid is not equipped. Solar also protects frontline communities from dangerous pollution by reducing the need for fossil fuel generators firing up nearby.
As the CPUC prepares to vote, we urge Gov. Newsom to intervene, putting an end to this attack on solar. Don’t just take it from us; our fellow local electeds up and down the state also voiced their concerns in public comment over the summer.
It’s our responsibility as the most populous state in the country to do our part in a big way. As local leaders, we will continue to lead local efforts on climate. Our respective staffs have already worked tirelessly on implementing our own Climate Action Plans and Building Electrification Ordinances. Our hope is that our governor steps up again and does the same, instructing the CPUC to significantly improve its NEM overhaul in a manner that incentivizes people of all income levels to be part of the climate solution.
Kate Harrison is Berkeley’s Vice Mayor and District 4 Councilmember. Dan Kalb is Oakland’s District 1 City Councilmember. They both serve as board members of East Bay Community Energy.