As California begins reopening, small business owners know all too well the day-to-day worry over work levels that might not return to pre-pandemic norms. While government programs and assistance have helped many small business owners weather the COVID storm, for solar installation companies like mine, upcoming government agency decisions could threaten our business’ health.
Later this year, the California Public Utilities Commission will decide the future of Net Energy Metering (NEM), the mechanism that determines how solar rooftop energy rates are calculated.
The state’s big three utilities are pushing to gut the state’s NEM program, raising rates for rooftop solar, making solar less affordable for low- and middle-income families and threatening local jobs.
The utilities’ proposal will not just slash incentives, but charge fees as high as $55 per month on energy bills for an average-size rooftop solar system. Larger solar users like schools and churches could be charged between $950 and $3,400 a month.
The utilities claim changes to the NEM program are necessary because only the wealthy have rooftop solar panels, causing low- and middle-income Californians to have to pay more to cover raising utility rates. The truth is rates are rising because of wildfire costs and transportation line replacement, not because of increasing rooftop solar panels.
My company sells and installs solar panels. I can tell you firsthand that I not only work with low- and middle-income families, but also install panels for churches, schools, Native American tribes and nonprofits. Places that need those lower energy costs to keep their operations running efficiently so they can focus their dollars where they are needed most — providing jobs, education and community services.
In fact, California businesses large and small have benefited from rooftop solar and, Bloomberg wrote, “no state comes close to matching the 21% of electricity derived from solar energy.”
The NEM system, first adopted in 1995, made solar an affordable alternative to traditional energy, benefitting both the climate and customers’ pocketbooks. Over the years, the lower energy bills created by NEM incentivized more and more people of average or low means to choose solar power for their homes and businesses. In fact, today, almost half of all new solar installations are in low- to middle-income households.
The growth of solar rooftops has helped create jobs, too. Rooftop solar businesses like mine are small businesses that employ middle- and working-class people. These jobs will be placed at risk if solar customers’ rates are raised too quickly.
If the price of solar is too high, Californians will no longer install panels on their homes, threatening the more than 126,000 jobs that California’s solar industry creates according to 2019 data.
If that happened, the future of my business, which employs 220 local hardworking people, would be at risk.
As we reopen California, we ought to reopen responsibly. That means prioritizing green energy jobs as part of the post-pandemic recovery, not making it harder for this sector to thrive.
The benefits of net metering can’t be ignored — and they shouldn’t be slashed. As the Public Utilities Commission decides the future of net metering later this year, I urge it to recognize the benefits solar rooftops have had in our state — for households of all income levels, for meeting our ambitious climate goals and for the responsible employment of local men and women in green energy jobs.
Vincent Battaglia is the founder and CEO of Renova Energy based in Palm Desert.