An update from Wendy Wendlandt, senior vice president of The Public Interest Network and president of Environment America
APRIL 1, 2022
An important debate over the future of solar power is unfolding right now in California, and the pro-solar side has won Round One.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) put on hold its own proposal — a plan that would have hit the brakes on the growth of rooftop solar in the state. The CPUC’s decision came after months of opposition from environmental groups, environmental justice groups, community and statewide leaders, solar businesses and the public — and a lukewarm reaction from Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Now, as the CPUC considers revising its proposal, Environment California, Environment America’s state organization, is working to ensure that the future of solar power in California remains bright.
Why have we leaned so heavily into this debate?
Rooftop solar is one of our cleanest energy sources and a critical piece of the puzzle as we urge California to move as fast as possible on a path to 100% renewable energy. Investing in distributed energy generation means paving our existing roofs with solar, rather than paving over the desert and our dwindling open spaces. It’s the environmentally responsible and climate-friendly thing to do.
Pacific Gas & Electric, other utilities and utility-backed groups have argued that rooftop solar is driving up electricity rates in California. Yet we know that these interests (which profit more from utility-scale solar) are undercounting the benefits that rooftop solar provides, from cleaner air and less climate pollution to a more resilient grid. And with California beset by wildfires, drought and other climate disasters, the state’s residents need all the resiliency they can get.
I am proud of the work that our team of advocates and organizers did to help put a stop to this wrongheaded proposal. Over the last four months, our team led a groundswell of political and grassroots action calling on the CPUC to reverse the decision.
Our staff published op-eds and letters to the editors in major California and national papers, and helped secure input from influential leaders, including Gov. Schwarzenegger, who wrote in The New York Times. We organized a virtual media tour in politically important parts of the state, where local officials and leaders delivered powerful testimony about how solar is benefitting their communities. We released a letter signed by more than 70 leading environmental organizations in support of saving solar, and placed a full-page ad in The San Francisco Chronicle (Gov. Newsom’s hometown paper) featuring the logos of many of those groups to show that the environmental community overwhelmingly supports solar.
Solar industry supporters, including solar companies and their employees and rooftop solar customers, organized by the Solar Rights Alliance, with the support of our own Green Corps program, turned out thousands to rallies in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Environment California State Director Laura Deehan spoke in San Francisco, and I spoke in Los Angeles. At a Jan. 27 CPUC meeting, more than 450 people called in to make comments for nearly eight hours — when rooftop solar wasn’t even on the agenda — with pro-solar commenters vastly outweighing the opposition.
While we have won Round One of this campaign, we expect an updated proposal to come out this spring. We’ll be looking to make sure it meets all of our criteria to continue the growth of solar in California. In the meantime, together with our many allies, our team will keep urging Gov. Newsom and the CPUC to accelerate California’s momentum as a solar power and clean energy and climate leader.