PG&E claims home solar is racist, wants to gut program

November 10, 2021

OPINION by REUBEN LY

Next year, your solar panels could cost you more than your monthly internet or cable TV bills, that’s because PG&E is trying to increase their bottom line by tying home solar to racism. The utility is claiming rich, white people are the primary installers of rooftop solar, so they should lose their economic benefit.

Rooftop solar is taking $3 billion a year from PG&E’s revenue, their estimate. Everyone else benefits from clean rooftop solar, but the utility companies.

This is not a joke.

PG&E and two other California utilities have proposed a new $90 per-month “solar connection fee,”  along with an 80% reduction in the payment solar panel owners receive for energy sent back to the grid (called net metering). You would essentially be paying PG&E for your own solar power.

Crazy, right?

If the California Public Utility Commission approves this proposal in December, it will crush the solar industry. And that seems to be their intention.

Over 700 local solar installers could be out of business next year if this regulation passes in full, and 68,000 people out of work. Who would buy solar panels without any financial benefit?

This exact thing happened in Nevada in 2015. The major utility there rolled back net metering, and the industry lost an estimated 2/3 of their jobs overnight. So, this is a very real threat.

This is the second time this year that PG&E, Edison, and SDG&E have together brought forth this Net Metering Agreement 3.0 (NEM 3.0) proposal.

They were crushingly defeated this summer in the State Senate with AB 1139, which would have compelled the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to adopt NEM 3.0.  However, that attempt was largely viewed as a bait and switch to confuse the public. The real fight is now taking place out of public view directly with the CPUC, with a ruling scheduled for Dec 10th.

The CPUC are the final decision makers.

Our climate cannot take any backwards progress on clean energy! So, what is PG&E’s argument for trying to kill rooftop solar? Solar is reverse Robin Hood?

In essence, the utilities’ main argument for the overhaul is that net metering represents a “cost shift” from high income to low income people in the state – and that “regular ratepayers” are now carrying the cost-burden of maintaining the grid, while solar owners (who tend to be whiter and wealthier) get paid.

This is a pretty good spin. In fact, they spent $20 million this year on lobbyists to come up with it.

However, they’ve got the facts wrong on several key points.

First, someone has to invest in clean energy – it’s never free. Whether it is your neighbor spending $15,000 on rooftop panels, or PG&E spending $15 billion on a solar farm (and long distance transmission wires), ratepayers will always need to reimburse the cost of those investments.

Second, rooftop solar is cheaper than building solar farms. Why? Mainly because rooftop solar does not require long distance power transmission lines, which, by the way, spark wildfires.

Building out rooftop solar as a key part of reaching ‘net zero by 2050’ is a staggering $120 billion cheaper than relying only on long-distance solar farms.

That equals a savings of $300 per ratepayer per year, for the next thirty years.  Amazing, right?

So, if rooftop solar is actually much cheaper, why would we pay more as a state and as ratepayers for solar power? And slow down the rate of adoption of clean energy?

In the utilities’ point of view, they don’t really care how quickly we get to net zero. Their main concern is to reap the profits from that transition to clean energy. And they don’t have access to our rooftops.

They are promising to be the custodians of our clean energy future. But our climate can’t wait for empty promises.

While PG&E embarks on decade-long environmental impact studies and planning approvals, rooftop solar is roaring ahead. We already have a million solar roofs in California, leading the nation. But still, only 6% of utility customers have solar panels. There is so much more potential.

Each year, as the tech gets less expensive and new innovative business models spring up, more lower and middle income people are getting solar. Meaning, this model – unlike the utility – has the potential to become evermore democratic each year, and distribute the wealth of energy in a way that central utility-owned projects never could.

And that, fundamentally, is what the utilities are scared of – this loss of “power.”

Please don’t let “big utility” take solar away from the people this December. Sign our petition here.


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obispan

Residential solar shifts utility costs from the rich to the poor, plain and simple. You may offset your $600/mo bill for your pool completely with power at times when you are using little of it and nobody else is either, but PG&E must buy it at retail, not energy production rates. Power plants at night will still be necessary and distribution systems must still be maintained. Those blue trucks with their employees and equipment are paid for 100% by the poor customer. PG&E is oddly on the same side as consumer advocates across the board. No more solar corporate welfare. The utilities are just asking to pay a generation rate for solar when it is needed, and increasingly it is not. You want to keep your power? Buy batteries and use it yourself, don’t soak the poor. California non-net energy metering customers pay $115 to $245 more per year.


Rambunctious

Who in hell is running that company?…..


Boldguy

Business 101, solar is not economically viable, so why are the many subsidizing it for the rich few!!!

I don’t know about racist but could be argued that it transfers more wealth to the rich!!!


kettle

“Business 101, solar is not economically viable” Wherever you heard that, it’s a bullshit source of information.


A properly sized PV system on a business will pay itself 100% off in 5-7 years depending on details. Customers treat it as an investment as the ROI is better that a common stock fund. Not quite as good on homes (no accelerated depreciation) but more than pays for itself.


Don’t do a solar lease, only borrow from your local credit union or regular home improvement loan, own your gear and keep the benefits.


Boldguy

If it was viable, there wouldn’t be a need for mass subsidies or for utilities to be forced to buy, at a premium, the excess electricity!!!

If viable, stand alone systems would be the norm and PG&E would be going the way of Kmart!!!


info

EV was promoted by the state and then they needed higher gas tax and registration fees to mitigate losses at the pump. History is repeating itself.


George Dunn

So…if you threaten the rich, white people with solar systems with a fee, do you think they will pay up, or simply use their mountains of cash to go completely off-grid and cut PG&E out of their energy needs completely?


805thirdeye

If you’re rich, why would it affect you, either way?


Cindy

I think you are missing the point. This would stop someone new from getting roof top solar. Why would I put solar on my hone for $20,000, if PG&E would make up for their lost revenue by fees. This would help curtail a move toward green energy and kill an industry.


Robert1

Solar has long been an experiment with 50-75 years of technology it has never been proven to be a viable plan without taxpayer subsidies. As a second fiddle, it works, as a primary, nope. Bring back Diablo and build more Nuclear plants, period.


Jon Tatro

I agree Robert, nuclear is the cleanest most efficient form of energy there is and Diablo provides a great tax base and good paying jobs.


kettle

“it has never been proven to be a viable plan without taxpayer subsidies.” Bullshit.


Local churches are installing solar, they don’t get subsidies and their accountants say it’s a no brainer.


“Bring back Diablo and build more Nuclear plants” That was built with taxpayer subsidies and we are still not done paying for it. Taxpayers will be paying for Diablo deccom and storage for hundred’s of years or more.


Robert1

Solar is in its infancy,


How Far Have We Really Gotten With Alternative Energy?

There is plenty of room for growth. The Energy Department says the U.S. now gets just 3% of its power from solar sources. Solar’s downside is as obvious as its upside: While the sun is Earth’s primary energy source, it doesn’t shine all the time. That means solar power works only during daylight hours. For solar to provide continuous power, it must be paired with other generation such as natural-gas plants, or some form of energy storage such as batteries. The price of such batteries is dropping, making solar plus storage increasingly attractive to many customers. But most current batteries don’t have a high capacity—today’s cost-effective ones last around three to four hours. Solar faces other challenges. For one thing, the industry is heavily dependent on materials and panels from China.


https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-far-have-we-really-gotten-with-alternative-energy-11636571966?mod=hp_featst_pos5


obispan

Bullshit, Diablo got no subsidies. In fact they paid massive property taxes for 25 years, good salaries and will continue to pay local government for their “losses” and good decommissioning salaries for years to come.


Jorge Estrada

If churches are installing solar panels to improve their bottom line, that’s great but to compare their donated income to the earned income of others doesn’t seem like a good example.


kettle

It’s not not about income source, nonprofits like a church or a satanic temple don’t get solar tax credits and can still save money with solar to offset power use.


With increased Nem fees it will eat up calculated savings and plenty of projects will not go forward and everyone’s bills will go up to the joy of hedge funds and other institutions that don’t give a fuck about average citizens.


805thirdeye

Not trying to beat a dead horse but unfortunately, once again, the same type of players actively hurting the central coast through backroom nepotism/ property deals where only a few profit, and fat salaries/compensation/retirement are just wolves in sheep’s clothing, working at various levels WITHIN PG&E. PG&E is just another “family” business. You will NOT find any hard working employees within PG&E who are pushing for this, but you will find the well meaning hard workers in linemen/women and the people actually on your roof installing solar. Not the white collar clowns! Newsome even knows this!! “Fix this damn thing.”


Electra

PG&E is a for-profit company that trades on the NYSE, not a family business. (Yes, I know you didn’t mean that literally.) Utilities are heavily regulated as to how much profit it can make and from what sectors of the services it can make that profit from. This is virtually the flip side of a family business.


I am a hard-working “white collar clown”, “wolf in sheep’s clothing” employee within PG&E that thinks solar customers should pay for the distribution and transmission lines that serve them regardless how many hours a month they pull power from the grid. They should also be paid market rate for the power they push back to the grid rather than a flat retail rate. If the grid doesn’t need the power when the solar customer is pushing it back, why should that customer get a premium rate for it?


Until solar customers contribute to the infrastructure at the same rate as non-solar customers, the rate system isn’t equitable.


Here are some articles everyone can read to get caught up on the solar dilemma in California. The articles are devoid of trigger comments like Mr. Ly’s opinion piece.


https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/571978-california-grid-limits-may-worsen-inequitable-access-to-solar?rl=1

https://www.utilitydive.com/news/as-californias-solar-net-metering-battle-goes-to-regulators-a-focus-on-re/606816/


On a personal note, 805thirdeye, contact me the next time you work a 72-hr work week to support the grid or maybe the next time you’re up in a bucket truck fixing a line in the pouring rain. Until then, maybe refrain from categorizing utility workers as being unworthy of their compensation, something you inferred in your remarks. And I’m sorry you didn’t get the job at PG&E.


kettle

“If the grid doesn’t need the power when the solar customer is pushing it back, why should that customer get a premium rate for it?”


Every grid approved inverter in California (for many years) has rule 21 baked in to the software. If the grid truly does not need the power, pge can change the Hz signal and all the solar inverters in that area will stop feeding the grid as designed with rule 21 support from pge. This signal that stops production naturally stops the recording of Kw and credits.


Pge wants the grid Hz support and the KW fed to the grid, just does not want to pay. Every time, every NEM, every rate change a host of “employees within PG&E” come forward to express there “personal” opinions. Tom Jones would be so proud, is he bringing pizza by the office later?


PgE with union support has been screwing with solar for decades, only wanting union c-10’s to install batteries with solar for example last month.


“contact me the next time you work a 72-hr work week to support the grid ” This is like medical first responders crying about dealing with drunken college kids, you signed up for the job it’s in the literal job description. How may hours a week are you in that bucket?


PGE wants to kill solar jobs and make solar less affordable for everyone by carving out as much middleman profit it can on the backs of 25 years of early adopters who are helping bring down the cost of solar for everyone including poor people, trailer parks etc.


Jorge Estrada

I wondered when the dream was going to end. Off the grid systems that you install are looking better. A transfer switch for PG&E power when needed is good but eventually the transmission line portion of the bill will be a greater shock than the electricity itself. The real racist is the race to be independent from the CPUC.


Mitch C

When nothing else works or makes common sense use “racist”. Racist is a poor excuse when you otherwise run out of ideas.


kettle

“run out of ideas.” This is PGE this is not random, it’s a play to get more of your money, different one next week, same as it ever was.


They will use anything to get a $rise$ out of people.