California has led the nation in moving towards a renewable energy grid and advancement of solar energy installation. However, for this move toward renewables to be sustainable and long-term, it must be equitable. A renewable energy grid that is accessible only to middle and high-income homeowners is unsustainable and limited in growth potential. NEM reform is an essential part of addressing this energy equity gap.
Net Energy Metering (NEM) is a program run by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), meant to incentivize solar expansion, that credits solar electricity customers for the excess electricity produced by their own generation system (e.g., rooftop solar panels) and sent to the electric grid. NEM has had the effect of raising prices on low-income customers to subsidize the benefits granted to wealthy and upper-middle class NEM customers. The numbers don’t lie. Less than 1% of families below the federal income level have been able to participate in the NEM program.
As such, CCEDA has put together a coalition of 14 organizations to serve as a voice for low-income communities of color in response to the CPUC’s proposed decision. Due to our pressure and advocacy, the CPUC has announced over $1 billion in funding for low-income solar access and paused any proposed decisions on NEM until next year.
No projects have been completed under NEM’s low-income SOMAH program. In 2020, non-solar customers saw a total cost shift of $3 billion. This data starkly demonstrates that low-income and non-NEM customers are not benefitting from NEM. In fact, they are being disadvantaged in the form of rising utility bills. How are low-income families supposed to build the capacity to afford solar technology when they are burdened by high energy costs?
Many solar companies and environmental organizations have falsely painted NEM reform as the “death of solar” in California, but none have spoken to the need for state programs to create equitable solar energy access that benefits low-income Californians and communities of color. Considering the lack of representation for low-income communities on the issue of NEM reform, CCEDA has taken leading role in communicating and advocating for the energy needs of these communities.
However, we would like to see more funds allocated for toward this purpose, as this does not address the needs of low-income families. We appreciate the CPUC’s proposed $600 million Equity Fund, but urge the commission to prioritize greater access to low-income families and expand access to solar in existing programs, like the Energy Savings Assistance Program and Low-Income Weatherization Program. NEM must be reformed to steer this $3bil subsidy toward solar energy access for low-income communities of color. CCEDA will continue to advocate for these underrepresented communities and work toward further informing the CPUC’s proposed decision scheduled for next year.