California’s solar power future has been up for debate in recent weeks and Hollywood — from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lance Bass to Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo — is weighing in.
In December, the California Public Utilities Commission issued a proposal that, if approved, would cut incentives for homeowners with rooftop solar panels, while implementing a new monthly fee for solar customers to connect to the power grid. It would also create a $600 million fund for underrepresented communities to have increased access to solar power.
Under the current system, known as net energy metering, rooftop solar residents receive the retail power rate for the energy they send to the grid; the proposal would reduce that compensation by as much as 80 percent. It would also roughly double how long it takes Californians to make back what they paid to install the systems, upping to about 10 years. The CPUC is set to discuss the proposal at its Jan. 27 meeting.
The concern, as expressed by Hollywood environmental activists, is that the reduced incentives would majorly slow California homeowners’ attraction to solar, in a state that leads the country in home rooftop PV panels.
In a New York Times opinion piece on Monday, Jan. 17, actor and former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said the proposal should be “stopped in its tracks,” calling the move to add monthly fees — an estimated $57 a month — an attempted “solar tax.”
“California should do more to incentivize clean energy in lower-income areas. And the state should be promoting the installation of a million batteries to store the energy that the solar panels capture. That’s how we can truly democratize energy,” Schwarzenegger wrote. “But adding a tax and removing incentives will hurt the solar market, and making solar more expensive for everyone does nothing to help our most vulnerable.”
“We should be pulling out all the stops to slow global warming,” Schwarzenegger continued. “California is already so far behind on meeting its 2030 climate goals that the state isn’t projected to hit them until 2063. And our 2050 goals? We are on track to reach them by 2111.”
He also touched on who is supporting the proposal, pointing to the major utilities who want customers to rely solely on those companies’ power grids. “This is just another case of the big guys — the investor-owned utilities — fighting for themselves and hurting people who have invested or want to invest in solar panels,” Schwarzenegger said.
For their part, California’s three major utilities — Pacific Gas and Electric, San Diego Gas and Electric, and Southern California Edison — argue that solar customers are currently receiving such large savings that they are not paying their fair share for the energy grid operation, and non-solar customers are covering an uneven amount. They say that solar customers are still relying on traditional power when the sun goes down, yet not paying fair prices, and are selling their solar energy back into the grid for more than it’s worth. But the public outcry has been swift.
Edward Norton took a public stance on the proposal via Twitter, posting, “We need to get loud about this. This is truly a moment of truth and choice between an American Renewal, characterized by the technological innovation and entrepreneurial dynamism that made this country a powerhouse, or remaining shackled to broken and dirty system.”
Mark Ruffalo weighed in online as well, tweeting at California Gov. Gavin Newsom, “You must not let this happen.” Tesla and its leader Elon Musk have taken an even more public stance, launching a website aimed at fighting the proposal.
In a statement to THR, Lance Bass, who sits on the Environmental Media Association’s board of directors, says that the commission “should rethink its plan to add a monthly grid participation charge for solar owners. Low-income communities are often hit the hardest by pollution, which is why it’s unfair to add more financial barriers to clean energy.”
“California has always led the way on solar energy, but sadly the California Public Utilities Commission is considering a new plan that includes a grid participation charge,” adds Nikki Reed, who is also on the EMA board. “Unfortunately, this decision would make solar power financially out of reach for many Californians.”
California currently has 1.3 million solar rooftops, two-thirds of which are on houses and businesses. These panels generating roughly 10,000 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power 3 million homes. The state alone accounts for 40 percent of the nation’s residential solar energy output.
Says Property Brothers star Drew Scott, another member of EMA’s board, “We should be adding more incentives for people to adopt solar power, not removing them and adding grid participation charges that act as a solar tax. At the end of the day if we are all truly honest with ourselves, we would admit that ‘taxing’ people to do something that is better for us and our planet is not the solution. Giving greater access to renewable energy helps all of us, especially lower income neighborhoods. And if we truly want to make change for a healthier future, we have to do it together.”