A statewide protest against proposed changes to solar subsidies came to San Luis Obispo on Tuesday.
The California Public Utilities Commission is considering changes to rooftop solar incentives.
Protesters say this will stifle the industry while proponents say it’s about protecting low-income Californians.
Dozens gathered in downtown San Luis Obispo to speak out against proposed changes to California’s net metering rules.
“The utilities are taking control of solar and trying to tax us unfairly,” said Frank Scotti, who works in the solar industry. “Solar is that one thing that’s accessible to everybody. It belongs to all of us — every single homeowner.”
Solar advocates walked from Higuera Street to PG&E’s customer service center to deliver a message.
“In about a month, the state government is going to put out a final proposal about these pretty drastic solar changes. We’re asking them to smooth it out, don’t make any drastic changes, don’t have this 300-to-700-dollar tax,” said Carter Lavin with the California Solar and Storage Association.
At issue are proposed changes to California’s net metering program which gives solar customers financial credit for extra energy fed back into the grid.
“It’s because of these very generous subsidies that they’re paying nominal electricity bills every month, sometimes they’re even negative, which means all the costs they’re paying for which used to be shared equitably by everyone are no longer being paid for by solar customers,” said Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for Affordable Clean Energy For All.
Those in favor of reform say that low-income Californians who can’t afford solar are paying more for grid upkeep and other costs, adding that state regulators are now trying to balance out the gap.
“All these groups are part of the non-solar customer group in California that is paying today $240 more per year to pay for these benefits that flow primarily to wealthier Californians who own homes,” said Fairbanks.
Solar advocates, on the other hand, warn that the move will discourage Californians from switching to solar.
“$300 to $700 a year is a lot of money for the average Californian and it’s something that would sink the economics of going solar,” said Lavin.
Others say similar reforms have been made successfully in other states.
“We saw in other states that after the reforms, people continued to adopt solar,” said Fairbanks. “They still continued to put solar panels on their homes and non-solar customers were better off.”
Solar industry leaders, meanwhile, are hoping to work with state regulators and come to a compromise.
Both sides agree that there should be more solar in California. The disagreement comes down to who should pay the subsidies.
California’s net metering rules have been around since 1995.