Rooftop solar and batteries remain valuable investments


Gen Nashimoto, of Luminalt, installs solar panels in Hayward, Calif., on April 29, 2020. California air regulators are set to approve an ambitious plan for the state to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. Doing so will require a rapid transition away from oil and gas and toward renewable energy to power everything from cars to buildings. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

Solar installations in California have dropped off a cliff, and the market is at its lowest in 10 years.

This is exactly what solar supporters warned would happen following the California Public Utilities Commission’s recent decision to drastically, and abruptly, cut back consumer incentives for rooftop solar. And it is exactly what utilities — who view rooftop solar as competition — wanted all along.

A recent opinion piece in this paper said the rooftop solar industry is not dying but rather adapting to changing market conditions

The solar and storage industry is a resilient and innovative group. Rooftop solar paired with batteries is still a valuable investment for consumers and even more so as Pacific Gas & Electric’s rates continue to rise. We will find a way to move forward and put solar and batteries back in the hands of everyone from public schools to renters. But the downturn in the market is undeniable, and the repercussions go beyond impacts to businesses and solar workers.

While thousands of solar workers have lost their jobs in the past year and many businesses have closed shop, the long-term damage is what has been done to our clean-energy and grid-strengthening goals.

Every Californian is counting on local solar and storage to help keep the lights on and reduce air pollution because PG&E and the other investor-owned utilities obviously can’t do it on their own.

Benefits for everyone

According to the California Energy Commission, in order to meet our climate goals, rooftop solar must double by 2030. Prior to last year, this spectacular feat was within reach thanks to a growing number of working- and middle-class consumers going solar. California was on pace to add an additional 2 million solar roofs and hundreds of thousands of batteries by 2030 in line with our climate goals.

That was slowed when PG&E pressured the CPUC to gut the most important solar program, net metering, which incentivized new rooftop installations. The decision lowered the bill credit utilities have to provide new solar projects, from homes to apartment buildings to schools, for the surplus electricity they produce and share back to the grid.

As California’s population grows and electricity consumption surges, it is essential that the state increases its energy capacity to keep up with demand. Some of that new capacity will come from big solar farms and giant banks of batteries out in the desert, but not all. California must build solar and batteries within our cities, too, or demand for electricity will outstrip supply, and the grid will once again fail us.

The CPUC said that its decision to cut solar incentives was aimed at reducing what they view as a cost burden on households without rooftop panels. But the decision did not fully account for all the ways rooftop solar saves everyone money.

The CPUC assumes consumers with rooftop solar who draw less energy from the grid are a burden on everyone else even though those solar panels save everyone billions in avoided generation and transmission costs. That the CPUC discounted shared benefits and inflated costs is part of the reason why the California Supreme Court agreed to review the decision.

Cost of doing nothing

When it comes to climate change, the cost of inaction is always more. The most foolish and expensive thing California could do is wait to build all the clean energy we know we need.

It is easy to see why big utilities hate rooftop solar. More local solar equals less need for utility spending, which in turn directly reduces utility profits. They are trying to hide the ball while getting rid of the competition.



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