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Are CA’s New Rooftop Solar Rules a ‘Complete Retreat’ for Clean Energy?



People in Fresno protest the since passed CPUC proposal that will have lasting effects on the growth of rooftop solar, July 27, 2022. (GV Wire File)
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If there’s one thing Thursday made clear, it’s that climate policy and controversy go hand in hand in California.

Emily Hoeven



Depending on whom you ask, the two major actions state regulators took Thursday are either indicative of California “leading the world’s most significant economic transformation since the Industrial Revolution” (as Gov. Gavin Newsom put it) or represent “a complete retreat from California’s unrivaled position of leadership in the clean energy revolution” (as Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, described the state’s new rooftop solar rules).

What are those new rules? In the final installment of what some have described as “a kind of solar rooftop Hunger Games,” the California Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously to overhaul the state’s 27-year-old residential solar rules — reducing payments to homeowners for excess power but providing nearly $1 billion in incentives to encourage more solar projects for low-income homes, CalMatters’ Julie Cart reports.

Almost all of the comments delivered during the intense, hours-long meeting were in opposition — and neither utility companies nor solar advocates emerged happy.

The divisive vote comes as California races to shore up its fragile energy grid — which narrowly escaped rolling blackouts this summer and remains at high risk of energy shortfalls during peak demand, according to a Thursday report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation — while simultaneously relying more on solar power as part of its plan for achieving carbon neutrality.

Just how fast will that transition be? Well, the sweeping, ambitious blueprint approved unanimously by the California Air Resources Board calls for slashing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 48% below 1990 levels by 2030, up from the 40% reduction currently required by state law.

To meet the plan’s targets, state officials estimate that California over the next 20 years will need about 30 times more electric vehicles, six times more household electric appliances and four times more wind and solar generation capacity, CalMatters’ Nadia Lopez reports. The estimated cost: $18 billion in 2035 and $27 billion in 2045.

  • Air Resources Board Member Daniel Sperling: “This is an extraordinary exercise and document, and it’s the most comprehensive, detailed plan for getting to net zero anywhere in the world.”
  • But many members of the public who spoke during the eight-hour meeting opposed the plan’s reliance on carbon capture, a controversial strategy to capture emissions from oil refineries and other facilities and inject the carbon deep into rocks underground. Critics say that approach merely prolongs the lifespan of fossil fuel plants.
  • Olivia Seideman, a climate policy advocate at Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability: “California’s shiny new climate strategies still sacrifice low-income and communities of color with increased pollution across the state.”

About the Author

Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business Times, the Flathead Beacon, the Daily Pennsylvanian, and the Mercury News.

About CalMatters

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom committed to explaining California policy and politics.