OP-Ed: Solar Program for Millionaires Creates Hardships for Working Families
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 23, 2022
Solar Program for Millionaires Creates Hardships for Working Families
By Senator Steven Bradford
Recently, a slew of Hollywood celebrities, a former high-ranking elected official, and even the richest man in the world, sounded off against the CPUC’s Proposed Decision to curb rooftop solar subsidies for wealthy Californians. Their opposition caused the CPUC to postpone the process.
And now, unfortunately, the hearing has been delayed indefinitely. But I believe that the rooftops solar subsidies will be eliminated once people hear and better understand the facts. After all, forcing low-income and mostly minority communities in Californians to subsidize their wealthy neighbors is not in line with the Golden State’s social justice priorities.
In order to buy rooftop solar, you need to own a home and be able to afford the solar panels which can cost around $20,000. To lease the panels, you need near perfect credit. Which means that people with rooftop solar tend to be wealthier than those without. As a result, folks with rooftop solar panels are not contributing to maintaining our electric grid.
The reason this happens is because of a program called “net metering,” which pays homeowners a premium for the excess electricity they put back on the electric grid that is produced by their rooftop solar panels. The customers with rooftop solar then receive a credit on their bill for the excess power that reduces their monthly bills.
But when wealthy rooftop solar customers don’t pay their fair share for grid maintenance, it’s the customers that can’t afford rooftop solar systems that pay for the upkeep. These families tend to be Californians living in multifamily homes and apartments, often low-income minorities. This dynamic is a cost shift of grid maintenance responsibility from the wealthy to the poor.
For example: A wealthy family installs solar panels on their 6,000 square foot Beverly Hills home. When they sell power back to the local utility, California’s lucrative net metering credits reduce their monthly electric bill to nearly nothing. Hence, their contributions to maintain the electric grid also goes to zero. Only a few miles away, a family renting an apartment in my hometown of Gardenia, cannot install rooftop solar panels and must pick up the slack and pay a greater proportion of the grid maintenance costs.
In fact, according to statistics produced by the state, net metering has driven up the electric bills of Californians without rooftop solar $3.4 billion more every year or as much as $245 per customer. That is a lot of money for a low-income family.
Many supporters of net-metering insist this policy was developed as an incentive program for all Californians. But that isn’t accurate. Net metering was created in 1995 with the goal of installing 10,000 rooftop solar systems across the state. Today, more than one-million homes here have solar panels.
Eliminating the net metering subsidies for the wealthy would not equate to giving up on rooftop solar in California. This is because the California Solar Mandate (Title 24) enacted in 2019 ensures the expansion of rooftop solar by requiring that all new homes constructed in the state are equipped with rooftop solar panels. It is estimated that this law will create between 74,000-100,000 new solar installations every year, even without net metering.
Lastly, I believe it is important to dispel the assertion that people with solar panels shouldn’t have to pay for maintaining the electrical grid, because they don’t use it. Only people with solar panels and large batteries – also costing tens of thousands of dollars – can completely disconnect. As a result, only a tiny fraction of homes with solar panels are off the grid.
As we seek to maintain our electrical grid to reduce the chance of wildfires, I am confident that with Title 24, and the ongoing demand for renewable energy, we can continue the expansion of rooftop solar without creating an economic burden on the working classes. Let’s reform net metering to stop hurting those who can least afford higher energy costs and help ensure all Californians can afford to live in our state.
Senator Bradford is Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, Chair of the Senate Committee on Public Safety and represents the Los Angeles County communities of Carson, Compton, Gardena, Harbor City, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lawndale, Lennox, San Pedro, Torrance, Watts, Willowbrook, and Wilmington. More information about the Senator can be found at www.senate.ca.gov/Bradford