Solar supporters gather outside Sempra headquarters in San Diego

Supporters of the solar industry gathered outside Sempra’s downtown San Diego headquarters on Tuesday, complaining about proposals to make rooftop solar much more expensive.

The California Public Utilities Commission is in the midst of a process that will rewrite rules for Net Energy Metering (NEM), the state’s system for creating financial incentives for installing rooftop solar panels.

Rooftop solar is widely seen as a key part of California’s strategy to steer the state’s power generation away from greenhouse gas emissions. This means relying more on renewables than on fossil fuels like natural gas to generate electricity.

Protesters tried, but failed to deliver a petition asking the energy company to stop supporting rule changes that dramatically increase the cost of installing solar power.

Erik Anderson / KPBS

A protester attempts to enter the Sempra headquarters building but the doors were locked on July 19, 2022.

“Do you think they can hear us?” shouted Carter Levin, brandishing the petitions outside the locked front doors of the headquarters building. “Can they hear us? It’s 15,000 people very kindly asking San Diego Gas and Electric to cut it!

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) released a draft ruling last December imposing a flat monthly fee of about $60 on customers who paid thousands of dollars to install solar panels. The plan also reduced the value of the electricity these customers can sell back to the grid.

The proposal was largely rejected and just a month later Governor Gavin Newsom indicated that there was still work to be done.

A few weeks later, the CPUC removed the proposal from its docket and began work on revising its overhaul of existing NEM rules.

These revisions are being crafted behind closed doors, and advocates are working hard to make sure the public doesn’t forget that the issue is not yet settled.


Erik Anderson / KPBS

Protesters gather outside the Sempra headquarters building on July 19, 2022

“We have the second largest solar in the country, which is amazing, but we still have a long way to go,” said Matthew Vasilakis, a member of the Climate Action Campaign in San Diego. “We are far from having 100% clean energy. We will get there by various means. And rooftop solar is one of those essential pillars. »

Many protesters wore red t-shirts saying: Stop the solar tax. They said the planet is in the midst of a climate emergency and now is not the time to make solar power more expensive.

“We are seeing the effects of climate change with our own eyes,” said San Diego 350 board member Keala Minna Choe. The climate crisis is currently disproportionately affecting young people.

A utility-funded advocacy group, Affordable Clean Energy For All, hopes the CPUC will issue a ruling on the NEM rules soon. They challenged the protesters’ message.

“There is no difference of opinion as to whether there should be more rooftop solar in California,” said Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for the advocacy group. “It’s about who has to pay. The current NEM program is paid for by electricity customers who do not have a solar roof.


Erik Anderson / KPBS

Sempra’s headquarters building in downtown San Diego on July 19, 2022.

Sempra officials have not met with the protesters, but San Diego Gas and Electric’s parent company said in a statement it fully supports renewables, and the company is investing billions in energy grids in California. to help the state achieve its ambitious goals. for carbon neutrality.

The company points out that it is the only US utility to be listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and that Sempra’s track record speaks for itself.

Sempra is also the parent company of Southern California Gas which supplies natural gas to residential and commercial customers in the region.

The CPUC has said very little since regulators pulled the reform proposal from the docket in the spring.

There is no firm date for a decision on the new NEM rules, but observers believe it could come before the end of the year.

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