Kevin Hamilton, co-founder and co-executive director of the Central California Asthma Collaborative, speaks to solar tax protestors Wednesday. Photo by Frank Lopez

published on July 27, 2022 - 2:42 PM
Written by Frank Lopez

Solar power proponents gathered in front of the PG&E building in Downtown Fresno to protest a tax proposal from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

Members of the Save Solar Coalition, a California group that includes more than 600 organizations, along with solar workers, local energy consumers, clean energy advocates and community leaders, gathered at 11 a.m. to deliver a “cease and desist” letter to call a stop for the tax.  They also delivered a petition signed by 16,000 people opposing the tax, they said.

In December 2021, the CPUC proposed an overhaul of California’s net-metering program for rooftop solar, which would have included a $700 per year solar tax, as well as cuts to the credits solar consumers receive for sharing extra energy with the grid.

After a loud public backlash from consumers, nonprofits, cities, schools and Gov. Gavin Newsom, the CPUC pulled back its proposal in February.

 In May, the CPUC formally requested input on three changes it is considering to the net metering program. These changes include a solar tax of $300 to $600 per year on average.

The public comment period closed on June 24, and a decision is expected sometime next month.

Fresno is home to more than 65,000 solar projects, with nearly 10,000 projects installed last year.

Carter Lavin, membership director of the California Solar & Storage Association, said that utilities including PG&E, SoCal Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric have been the architects of the California “anti-solar” tax in efforts to make it unaffordable for Californians.

“PG&E and the other utilities don’t like the competition—they don’t like that folks are doing it together and without them. They have spent over $42 million dollars in the last few years on anti-solar attacks — on shadowy fund groups, on public relations, on lobbying and direct campaign contributions pushing for the solar tax,” Lavin said.

The CPUC’s proposal would reduce the credit for net metering—sending energy back to the grid — gradually over four years. The credit would be reduced from $0.25 a kilowatt hour to $0.05 a kilowatt hour.

Kevin Hamilton, co-founder and co-executive director of the Central California Asthma Collaborative, became a solar customer in 2003 with the idea that it would pay for his electric bill.

It didn’t, he said.

Hamilton said that PG&E claims it subsidizes people’s energy and they need to tax consumers.

 “They buy my electricity from me at essentially the same rate for $5 cents to $7 cents a kilowatt hour and sell it back to me when I need electricity for $15 cents a kilowatt hour. I call that return on their investment. They call it a subsidy. I’d like them to explain the difference between the two,” Hamilton said.

Geoff Howard, vice President at Kuubix Energy, a solar contractor in Visalia, said that the tax will not only impact consumers, but solar companies as well.

Howard said that the solar tax would impact his company, which employs hundreds of people, by making it less affordable for consumers.

“When you increase prices on something, that decreases demand. The tax proposal provides less incentive for customers to convert to solar—you have to provide a cost benefit to make people want it,” Howard said.

After the protest, Lavin led protesters to the front doors of the PG&E building to deliver the petition to the utility’s CEO Patricia Poppe.

A security guard said the building was closed.

A spokesperson for PG&E said that rooftop solar plays a significant role in California’s clean energy future and that the utility will continue to support its customers that chose to go solar, but that the current net-metering program doesn’t treat all customers equitably. 

PG&E claims that electric customers without solar energy are paying billions more annually to subsidize solar customers.

“The solar market has evolved, and we need to go to a structure that’s fair for all customers,” the PG&E spokesperson said. 

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