Battle heats up over over California consumer cost of solar

A battle is brewing over a proposed California law changing how much we pay for electricity and how much people save when they own solar.

Video Transcript

- Solar panels harness the sun's energy at more than 56,000 homes and businesses in Fresno County alone, according to industry experts. They're all saving money by generating their own electricity. And a lot of them create enough power to share with neighbors. Utility companies have to pay for that energy at rates determined under the state's net energy metering program. But some legislators have tried to change the program for years now, saying, it shifts costs to poorer Californians.

LORENA GONZALEZ: Right now, the way that we're subsidizing rooftop solar, the people who are bearing the brunt of it are people who don't have solar or will never have solar.

- Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez says, subsidizing rooftop solar is a good idea. But the way it works now, every time someone gets rooftop solar, they save money. And people without solar pay more.

LORENA GONZALEZ: An average ratepayer pays $230 a year to subsidize solar users.

- She came up with a bill AB 1139 that she says takes the burden off people who don't own solar. It would take away some of the financial benefits of owning solar panels by reducing how much people get when they sell energy to the utility companies.

BERNADETTE DEL CHIARO: AB 1139 is quite simply a profit grab by PG&E and the other utilities.

- The solar industry is energizing an effort to stop AB 1139. They say the bill would let utilities increase the cost of accessing the grid to $70 per month and reduce the net energy metering payback rates by 80%. Power companies say they need that money to maintain the power grid that all customers benefit from, including those with solar.

But Bernadette Del Chiaro says it makes people less likely to make the investment in clean energy, just as the price of solar has come down to where it can be available to the lower income, people, Gonzales says, the bill is designed to protect.

BERNADETTE DEL CHIARO: The cost shift is a complete lie backed up by the utilities PR firms to try to scare people away from going solar and get the legislature on their side.

- The bill would disappear if the California Public Utilities Commission comes up with a new net metering plan by August 2022. But the solar industry wants to make sure it flames out sooner.

The full assembly is expected to vote on AB 1139 sometime in June. [INAUDIBLE], ABC30, Action News.