CPUC blocks rooftop solar for farms, schools, and many renters. Will state lawmakers overrule them?

For years, the utilities have tried and failed to block homeowners from making and using their own solar energy. We’ve stopped them every time. But last month, the utilities succeeded in blocking solar rights for schools, farmers, and many renters. This, despite overwhelming opposition from renters’ advocates, affordable housing organizations, school districts, farmers, and the general public.

At this point, there should be little surprise when the CPUC sides with the utilities. But the real question is if state legislators will wake up and overrule the CPUC before they do even more damage. Fortunately, they have a chance to do that, thanks to a new bill, SB 1374 (Becker).

Tell your State Legislators to restore rooftop solar for renters, schools and farmers!

The CPUC decided to stop farms, schools, and many apartments from using their own rooftop solar to reduce their electricity bill

  • California’s nearly 2 million solar rooftops include multi-family homes, farms, and schools.
  • They lower their utility bills through two programs that are very similar to the net energy metering (NEM) program used by homeowners.
  • Here’s how it works: the solar energy directly powers your property when the sun is shining, which reduces the amount of electricity you buy from the utility. This is common sense.
  • But the CPUC approved a change that blocks most properties that have more than one electrical meter from directly using their rooftop solar energy.
  • This includes farms, schools, and many apartments with more than one meter.
  • For these solar users, the CPUC handed the utilities exclusive control over their rooftop solar energy when it is produced. Going forward, schools that go solar, for example, have to buy their own solar energy back from the utility at full price.

The CPUC effectively approved a blatant seizure of property

  • Yes, you read it correctly. The CPUC is letting the utilities seize control of the power generated by these rooftop solar systems and then sell that power back to their owner at full price. This is solar energy that the utilities did not pay for and do not own.
  • With respect to rooftop solar, there is no meaningful difference between properties with one meter (such as single-family homes) and properties with two meters (such as apartments, farms, schools, and many businesses). All should have the right to install solar panels and use that energy on their property instead of buying it from the utility.

The CPUC’s last-minute revision is about as cynical as it gets

  • The CPUC made a last-minute revision that allows renters to use rooftop solar energy in real-time, but still prohibits the property owner from using the rooftop solar energy for common areas. This includes hallway lighting, outdoor lighting, office equipment, elevators, and shared resources like pools, laundry, exercise facilities, and EV charging stations. Apartment owners typically use some of the solar power to reduce the cost of operating these common areas, which helps pay for the rest of the solar that goes to their renters.
  • In other words, the CPUC’s seeming “compromise” for apartments is actually a cynical poison pill. If it is not cost effective for apartment owners to install solar, then individual tenants won’t get that solar to begin with.
  • In addition, making it difficult for apartment complexes to power EV chargers with solar will result in fewer EV chargers getting installed for tenants. That conflicts with everything else state leaders say about promoting electric cars.

How did the CPUC justify their decision? Is there something different about the way rooftop solar works for properties with more than one meter?

  • In the case of a school with several buildings, the solar energy flows into the local grid (“in front of the meter”) for a moment before traveling back to other buildings on the school grounds. This is a technical feature related to how multi-meter properties work with rooftop solar.
  • The CPUC/utilities say that because the solar electrons touch the grid for a brief moment, those electrons are no longer the property of the solar user.
  • But that is nonsense. After briefly touching the grid, those electrons flow back and power the property as intended.
  • The CPUC/utility “argument” is a really just a fig leaf to justify another abuse of power by the monopoly.

You helped stop utilities from blocking solar for homeowners, so they went after renters, farmers, and schools

  • You might be asking, “But didn’t the CPUC gut rooftop solar for homeowners last year?” Not quite. Thanks to your efforts, the CPUC did not alter homeowners’ right to make solar energy to power your home “behind the meter.” The CPUC instead slashed the credit that homeowners get for sharing their extra solar energy with the grid. That’s not good, but the basic solar right for homeowners was preserved.
  • Now that the CPUC took away the fundamental solar right for renters, we expect them to try again for homeowners at some point.

Renters, affordable housing developers, farmers, and schools fought back. The CPUC (and Governor Newsom) did not listen.

  • Hundreds of organizations and businesses representing renters, farmers, schools, and apartment owners sent letters, made phone calls, and met with decision-makers to stop this from happening. Many of them pointed out that rooftop solar is an important way to reduce California’s high cost of living for renters and others, and that this decision makes the problem worse. The media picked up the story, too (see below).

The state Legislature should reverse the CPUC’s decision. If they don’t, we can assume they are complicit as well.

  • The CPUC has made their choice. And Governor Newsom has too: he appointed all of the current CPUC members, and he did not intervene despite numerous chances and requests to do so. The Court of Appeal will hear arguments in December to a lawsuit challenging last year’s disastrous “NEM3” decision. It is possible this week’s decision could be challenged in court as well.
  • State Senator Josh Becker has introduced a bill, SB 1374, to restore solar rights for renters, schools, and farms. Where does your Assemblymember and Senator stand? Are they going to stay silent while people’s solar rights are being attacked? Or are they going to use their power to pass legislation that overrides the CPUC?
  • What state legislators do in the weeks and months to come will tell their voters everything they need to know about their leadership abilities and conviction to fight for the interests of working people. We urge you to call your legislators and ask them to enact legislation to reverse the CPUC’s decision to block rooftop solar for renters, schools, and farms.

Tell your State Legislators to restore rooftop solar for renters, schools and farmers!

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