The CPUC went on tour to sell utility propaganda against rooftop solar

Following weeks of silence, the first substantive remarks on rooftop solar have started to trickle out of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

These remarks paint the picture of a government agency unabashedly selling utility propaganda against rooftop solar. They also suggest that the CPUC didn’t actually get the overwhelming message from the public, and is planning to reissue a new proposed decision that persists in making rooftop solar less affordable for consumers.

The CPUC spreads misinformation on Facebook.

Let’s start with a Facebook comment posted on March 27th from Chris Westling, CPUC’s Net Energy Metering Policy Analyst. Mr. Westling’s comment was in response to a pro-rooftop solar post by former state Assemblymember Lori Saldaña (see Ms. Saldaña’s letter to the CPUC outlining her concerns with this post):

It is odd that one of the the first substantive comments by the CPUC is coming by way of a Facebook post. Even more concerning: this CPUC official appears to be defending the CPUC’s proposal for a $700 / year Solar Tax and deep cuts to the credit for sharing extra solar energy with the grid. This, after everyone from consumers to Governor Newsom rejected that offering.

Indeed, Mr. Westling relies on the same baseless “cost shift” premise that led to the initial proposed decision, which caused so much backlash. [see our white paper outlining how the “cost shift” is based on deceptive accounting methods] Mr. Westling also repeats a common utility talking point about the demographics of rooftop solar. In fact, just under half of all new solar is going into middle and working class neighborhoods, and increasingly going to renters.

This CPUC official is entitled to his private opinion. But public servants are expected to be independent curators of the facts. This post suggests that this particular public official is not up for the task.

And, we fear, this one Facebook post is not an isolated incident.

CPUC official repeats utility propaganda to state lawmakers

Earlier in March, CPUC Deputy Director for Costs, Rates and Planning told a panel of powerful state Assemblymembers that it was a “fact” that rooftop solar is more expensive than solar and wind farms. This is a common utility talking point that ignores the high costs of transporting energy from solar and wind farms over long distance power lines.

We break it down in this two minute video:

The CPUC’s official information is riddled with conflicts of interest

Last year, the CPUC hired a consulting firm called E3 to conduct an independent analysis of rooftop solar’s costs and benefits. E3’s other clients? PG&E, SoCal Edison, Sempra Energy and most other North American private utilities. Not shockingly, E3’s report repeated many of the same claims that the utilities make – namely that rooftop solar is responsible for rising electricity bills. [see our white paper starting on p. 5 for more detail]

The CPUC also relies on research from the Energy Institute at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. The director of the Energy Institute is a known opponent of rooftop solar and also received donations from PG&E, SoCal Edison and Sempra Energy totaling  $223,500 between 2018 and 2021 according to a public records request. Over a similar period, the Energy Institute received over $1 million from the CPUC to conduct research for the CPUC. [more about the Energy Institute]

The CPUC went on tour in March to sell utility misinformation to lawmakers about rooftop solar. Consumers got more rate hikes. And PG&E’s CEO got $50 million. Woo hoo!

It’s concerning, to say the least. And begs the question: where does Gov. Newsom stand?