CPUC proposes to block rooftop solar for renters, farms, and schools

For years, the utilities have unsuccessfully tried to block homeowners from making their own solar energy. Now they are working to block rooftop solar for California renters, schools, and farmers. We are making a final push to defend their solar rights in the face of a disastrous, utility-backed proposal from the CA Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The CPUC is scheduled to make a final decision on October 12th, 2023. You can help!

Thousands of renters, farmers, and schools benefit from rooftop solar

  • 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.

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

  • 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 is proposing that properties that have more than one electrical meter be blocked from directly using their rooftop solar energy.
  • This would include apartments, farms, schools, factories, and other businesses.
  • For these solar users, the CPUC is proposing to give the utilities exclusive control over their rooftop solar energy when it is produced. The landlord and tenants of an apartment building, for example, would then have to buy their own solar energy back from the utility at full price. Under this scheme, they would lose all of the savings that single-family homeowners get.

The CPUC is proposing a blatant seizure of property

  • Yes, you read it correctly. The utilities are proposing to essentially seize control of the power generated by these rooftop solar systems—that they did not pay for and do not own—and then sell that power back to their owner.
  • 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 have the right to install solar panels and use that energy instead of buying it from the utility.

How do the CPUC/utilities justify their proposal? 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 might first flow into the local grid for a moment before traveling back to other buildings on the school grounds.
  • In these cases, the solar energy gets “in front of the meter” for an instant, and then flows right back to the property served. This is a technical feature related to how multi-meter properties work with rooftop solar.
  • Bottom line, the solar electrons power the property. This is the only relevant fact. However, 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.
  • This is utter nonsense because those same electrons flow right back and power the property as intended. The utilities/CPUC are using their monopoly power to defy the laws of physics, and to pretend that those electrons are not being used for self-consumption, when in fact they are.

You helped stop utilities from blocking solar for homeowners, so now they are trying to block it for 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 your 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.
  • However, if the CPUC takes away the fundamental solar right for renters, there’s no doubt they will try again for homeowners at some point.

Renters, affordable housing developers, farmers, and schools are fighting back—and homeowners are backing them up

  • Hundreds of organizations and businesses representing renters, farmers, schools, and apartment owners have sent letters, made phone calls, and met with decision-makers over the last month. Many of them have pointed out that rooftop solar is an important way to reduce California’s high cost of living for renters and others, and that this proposal makes the problem worse.
  • More than fifty people, including many solar homeowners, packed the CPUC’s August meeting to denounce their proposal and demand it be dropped.
  • The media is finally beginning to pick up the story, which will help put pressure Governor Newsom to intervene.
  • We are continuing to sound the alarm with renters, farmers, affordable housing advocates and others to speak out.

How you can help: Tell Governor Newsom to keep his promise to reduce the high cost of living in California

The CPUC is scheduled to make a final decision on October 12th, 2023. Gov. Newsom appointed the CPUC. Thus, the Governor has influence with the CPUC commissioners. Gov. Newsom’s phone number is (916) 445-2841. Here’s a sample message, feel free to modify it:

My name is ____. I live in ______. I am calling to demand that Governor Newsom speak out against the CPUC’s proposal to block rooftop solar for renters, farmers, and schools. He promised to address California’s high cost of living. This issue is a test of his commitment to his promise. Thank you.

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