American power companies have an interesting history. In the 1960s and ’70s, commercial groups like PG&E or Southern California Edison could factor in the cost of construction as a billable item and pass that expense along to their customers. This ultimately led utility companies to reap more revenue from developing power plants across the countryside than they gained from actually operating them.
While legislation has changed over the years to eliminate a company’s ability to factor in construction costs, power companies are still able to include the expense of transmission lines when framing fees for customers. The three investor-owned utilities in California ― PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric ― build, own and generate shareholder profits from the large electric power transmission lines that crisscross the state. This means miles — literally — worth of revenue for large utility-scale operations, which in turn pad election campaigns with funding.
Rooftop solar, which generates on-site energy and can power a home, doesn’t generate a profit for utility shareholders, nor does it even count toward former Gov. Jerry Brown’s Senate Bill 100, which passed in 2018 and put us on a path toward 100% carbon-free energy by 2045.
That’s right — homes with rooftop solar are not counted toward our renewable energy portfolio standards.
There are special interests driving efforts to eliminate distributed generation (aka rooftop) solar.
In comes Assembly Bill (AB) 1139, which is making its rounds in the state assembly. Those concerned about green energy should be just that: concerned. Because while it has become clear that our planet is in urgent need of renewable energy, bills like AB 1139 aim to appease politicians and large unions first, the environment second — all while promoting the self-serving narrative that only wealthy people who own homes can benefit from rooftop solar.
Our society has grown more aware of disproportionate socio-economic hardships facing communities of color. Through discussion and action, we’ve sought ways to deliver more balance and inclusivity — as we absolutely should. In our ongoing effort to address these inequalities, let’s not put it past any politician or multimillion dollar company to exploit this progressive momentum for their own gain.
Make no mistake, AB 1139, promoted by power companies, offers no exceptions for low-income consumers. In fact, while making the claim that utility-scale solar helps low-income communities, it would actually harm 150,000 existing low-income solar users in the state by retroactively changing their contracts, adding fees and cutting savings. The bill would drastically cut net metering, which allows solar users to share extra energy with their neighbors. And it would eliminate the rooftop solar market. That would entail the demise of small solar businesses, which employ a local workforce and also place solar on the rooftops of low-income apartment complexes or rental homes throughout town.
When it comes to rooftop solar for low-income property owners, there are federal energy assistance funds that can go toward solar investments. Energy providers could create pricing systems to absorb costs for low-income consumers, all while maintaining open space and generating green energy. Again, why wouldn’t this count toward our renewable energy goals?
Follow the money.