Op-ed: What little power we have left is under threat
Solar panels. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has failed, and continues to fail, the residents of California in spectacular fashion by not adhering to its own mission statement: “We are dedicated to ensuring that you have safe, reliable utility service at reasonable rates, protecting against fraud, and promoting the health of California’s economy.”

Under CPUC’s watch the utilities have wreaked havoc on our great state: deadly fires, regular power outages and skyrocketing rates. Now it wants to take a wrecking ball to one of California’s greatest success stories: rooftop solar. Not so fast. Let’s look at its mission statement more closely.

Safety? According to NPR’s Stephanie Sy, “PG&E has set off 31 wildfires, killing 113 Californians, burning nearly 1.5 million acres, and destroying almost 24,000 structures. The utility is blamed for some of the biggest fires in the state’s history, including Dixie Fire in Northern California, which burned more than 963,000 acres and destroyed 1,300 structures.”

We don’t feel safe. Do you?

Reasonable rates? Does any Californian feel they are paying a “reasonable rate” for their energy? This January, electricity rates went up 8%. In March they went up another 8.9%.

Meanwhile, the Mercury News reported in 2022 that “PG&E’s first-quarter profits were nearly triple the $120 million the utility earned in the same quarter a year ago. Revenue increased 22.9% from the year before.” CPUC authorized this price gouging.

Protect the health of the economy? These high energy bills mean consumers have less money to spend and businesses struggle under the weight.

The kicker is the promise to protect against fraud. The utility argument that rooftop solar is responsible for the rise in energy prices is a flat out lie. Energy companies make money from building infrastructure like the long distance transmission lines that have caused the fires.

Rooftop solar doesn’t require any of that, and that’s going to cut into profits. Suddenly rooftop solar is to blame for everything.

The California Public Utilities Commission is again proposing a solar tax that would gut the rooftop solar industry and the approximately 70,000 jobs it creates. Why is CPUC considering such an incomprehensible action when, right now, we need to triple rooftop solar to address the climate crisis? You would have to ask them, but it doesn’t seem to be in our best interest.

The CPUC “threatens to kill rooftop solar in CA with cost-prohibitive fees,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo of San Jose. “Gavin Newsom, now is not the time to lose California’s clean energy leadership.”

Californians have no say on rising utility rates. We watch our politicians take dollars from the fossil industry instead of taking action on the climate crisis, no matter how much we beg them to do so. The only power we have to fight climate change is by putting solar panels on our roof. Now CPUC wants to tax rooftop solar out of reach for consumers in favor of a solar tax favoring utilities.

If Gov. Gavin Newsom thinks we don’t understand we’re being taken for a ride, let’s make sure he hears from us. Our message is clear—hands off our solar panels. Don’t let them tax away what little power we have left.

Rebecca Elliot is a member of Indivisible San Jose and can be reached at [email protected] Susannah Saunders is a member of Indivisible Ross Valley and can be reached at [email protected]

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