Guest opinion: California must not undermine the advance of clean energy

clean energy

Solar panels line the roof of a home on Channing Avenue in Palo Alto on March 3, 2009. Photo by Veronica Weber.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recently set aside plans to vote on a controversial proposal to revise the state’s rooftop solar program. That’s good. This time-out gives regulators a chance to rethink their proposal and tackle what Gov. Gavin Newsom described as “still … some work to do.”

I agree there is still work to be done. California is the U.S. leader in solar energy and adds a power plant-worth of rooftop solar about every five months. As of last year, our state had 25 gigawatts (GW) of solar on the grid, with utility-scale solar accounting for 15 GW and 10 GW of distributed solar, nearly all of it from rooftop solar. To put that into perspective, 1 GW is enough to power 110 million LEDs or about 9,060 Nissan Leafs.

However, being the leader doesn’t mean our work is over. Our state’s current plans assume California will need as much as 208 GW from a mix of clean energy technologies to reach the goal of 100% clean electricity by 2045. We need more clean energy of every kind, and I’m working on legislation to encourage that.

The CPUC’s pause on its proposal is important because it provides time to craft a better solution to balance incentives for clean energy and remedies to address affordability concerns for non-solar customers. An updated approach shouldn’t slam the brakes on the growth of solar, or other clean energy technologies. Our goal is a clean energy transformation. We need to get there faster, and we need to bring everyone along in the process.

Solar arrays in the front parking lot of Gabriela Mistral Elementary School in Mountain View on Oct. 25, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The CPUC proposed changing the key incentives that enabled Californians to put solar on more than 1 million roofs of homes, apartments, schools and businesses including many in the 13th Senate District. Supporters of the CPUC’s proposed changes say these benefits have gone mostly to the wealthy, but in recent years almost half the growth in rooftop solar occurred in working- to middle-income neighborhoods, according to a study of solar-adopter income trends.


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