New reforms would help utilities, not customers

The California Public Utilities Commission says it wants to help little people as it prepares to release new rules governing the price of rooftop solar power across the state.

But the long story says that when PUC claims to help tenants and other small utility customers, a Latin term applies: Caveat emptor, buyer beware.

Indeed, for more than half a century, every major decision by this scandal-prone agency has favored large, monopolistic utility companies over their customers.

From its refusal to shut down natural gas storage facilities that pose health risks to thousands of people to its constant endorsements of unreasonable rate increases that make California power the most expensive in the country, there is no has never had much doubt about the interests that the PUC considers paramount.

When companies like Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric start wildfires that kill hundreds and cause billions of dollars in damage, the PUC makes sure they stay whole and solvent. , while the customers they harm usually wait years for compensation. .

The same is true this summer, as the PUC — without any public calls for “reform” — prepares to release a new set of rules for pricing rooftop solar. Never mind that homeowners who invested tens of thousands of dollars in solar panels and battery systems were promised in advance that they would get certain levels of payment for the excess electricity they generate and feed into the general network. Now the PUC wants to reduce those payments and therefore the incentives to build more and more renewable energy in urban and suburban areas.

How well known is he likely to be over the next two months. An earlier version of the upcoming changes was scrapped last winter amid a storm of protests.

Why would the PUC want to change the current, highly productive system? It claims to act to save money for people who cannot afford to install solar power and for renters who do not have the power to add it.

According to the PUC, for every dollar paid by owners of solar installations, rates increase by about a fraction of a penny for everyone else.

What the commission never admitted was that the alternative – bringing solar thermal power over great distances to cities from gigantic solar farms in the state’s vast sunny deserts – would grow much more rates for little guys.

This extra money would go to large utilities, whose rates are based in part on how much they spend building or buying facilities and equipment. It takes hundreds of kilometers of transmission lines to deliver electricity from solar thermal farms to cities. This translates to billions of dollars in spending and a guaranteed 20-year profit on every penny of consumer-provided funds spent by big business.

So yes, utilities always want more solar in deserts, and always less in cities and suburbs. And the PUC, ever mindful of its interests while piously claiming otherwise, is poised to provide just that as the state seeks to use 100% renewable energy decades from now.

An example: days after the PUC made its initial proposal to reduce compensation for owners of rooftop solar installations, the federal government authorized the construction of two new solar thermal farms deep in the Mojave Desert. Expect the utilities that will buy this power to start building new transmission lines to these locations soon after the ground breaks.

The idea of ​​penalizing energy-conscious pioneer homeowners actually originated with often misguided former Democratic Congresswoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, also the author of the highly destructive AB 5 which destroyed the working lives of many freelancers. and others. She offered to roll back the long-standing guarantee promising homeowners that the rules would remain stable for at least 20 years after any rooftop solar system was installed.

Additionally, the PUC offered monthly fees of around $50-70 for each roof owner, as well as price reductions for their additional production. It hasn’t flown, at least not yet.

No one knows exactly what the new proposal will contain, but one thing seems certain: it will once again put the interests of major utilities above those of their customers.

Email Thomas Elias at [email protected]