A fight against rooftop solar threatens California’s climate goals

Some energy experts say utilities would not be able to generate or buy enough renewable energy to replace what would be lost due to the decline of rooftop solar panels – which provided 9% of the state electricity in 2020, more than nuclear and coal combined. California would need to set aside about a quarter of its land for renewable energy to meet its climate goals without developing rooftop solar, said Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental energy at Stanford. As a result, utilities should turn to natural gas and other fossil fuels.

“The only thing it’s going to do is reduce solar power on rooftops,” Prof Jacobson said. “That means there will be more natural gas in the system. Every roof should be solar. You should encourage more.

People who install solar panels on their roofs or property are still connected to the power grid, but they receive a credit on their bills for the electricity they produce beyond what they use. California’s proposal would reduce the value of these credits, which are roughly equivalent to retail electricity rates, by about 87%. Additionally, the measure would impose a new monthly fee on solar home owners — about $56 for the typical rooftop system.

The monthly cost of solar and electricity for homeowners with an average rooftop system served by PG&E, the state’s largest utility, would rise from $133 to $215, according to California Solar. and Storage Association.

An intense campaign is underway to influence regulators. Rooftop solar companies, homeowners and activists on one side and utilities and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers on the other are pressuring Governor Gavin Newsom to intervene. Although the commission is independent of Mr. Newsom, he wields enormous influence. The governor recently told reporters that regulators should modify their proposal, but did not specify how.

The electricians’ union, which did not respond to requests for comment, plays a central role. It represents linemen, electricians and other utility workers, who typically earn more than the mostly non-union workers who install systems on rooftops. Many members of the union, an important constituency for Democrats, fear they will be left behind in the transition to green energy.

Other states are also targeting rooftop solar. Florida is considering legislation to reduce homeowners’ compensation for excess energy produced by their panels, a benefit known as net energy metering.

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