Solar Workers Gather at California State Capitol to Support Solar Jobs

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Image: TASC/CALSEIA

Over 200 solar industry workers from across California converged on the state capitol in Sacramento on Tuesday to send legislators the message, “Save our solar jobs!”

The participants in Solar Worker Day called for immediate action to protect tens of thousands of solar jobs from utility-driven attacks on key policies that enable the growth of rooftop solar in California.

Specifically, the solar workers asked lawmakers to support:

  • The continuation of net energy metering (NEM), the policy adopted by California and 43 other states that enables consumers to get fair credit for power from their solar systems.
  • Extension of the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC), due to step down dramatically at the end of 2016. Resolution SJR 10 calls on Congress to extend the ITC.
  • New legislation, AB 693, to expand access to solar for low-income renters.

Utilities in California have spent millions on lobbying efforts, with the state’s three largest utilities alone spending $2.5 million influencing legislation in just the past six months — or $13 every minute. Although the solar industry can’t match this outpouring of cash, it does have strength in numbers. In California, the industry employs 54,000 people — more than the state’s five largest utilities combined. Solar also enjoys a large constituency, with a California resident going solar every 3 minutes.

But the solar industry in this #1 solar state is facing a serious threat within the next fifteen months, because of anticipated changes in key state and federal policies. The industry estimates that dramatic policy changes scheduled to take effect in 2016-2017 could force 40% of California’s 1,800 solar companies to lay off workers, and another 40% to freeze new hires.

“We are here today to metaphorically shout from the rooftops, ‘Save Our Solar Jobs!’” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA). “This cliff we are speeding toward could unnecessarily cost the state tens of thousands of quality jobs, which is the opposite direction we should be headed.”

CALSEIA and The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) organized yesterday’s event.

The organizations say the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is not abiding by AB 327, which passed in late 2013, and that Sacramento must therefore step in. AB 327 requires the CPUC to ensure that rooftop solar continue to “grow sustainably,” and to fully value distributed generation as it defines what “Net Metering 2.0” will look like.

Net metering may be unavailable to new customers starting next year in most communities across California, and a successor program to be developed by the CPUC is up in the air. The CPUC is under pressure from PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E to end net metering, which would be a tremendous blow to the rooftop solar industry.

“The rooftop solar industry needs long-term certainty,” said Walker Wright, director of public policy for Sunrun. “Net metering is the only proven state policy that puts solar into the hands of homeowners, renters, schools, churches, farmers and businesses.”

The impending changes to net metering and the winding-down of the ITC come at a time when electricity rates in California are being flattened, adding to the threat to solar in the state. The tiered rate system that was put in place to encourage energy efficiency is also a motivator for going solar. Since a solar customer uses much less power from the grid, they are likely to remain in a low tier for any grid power they do use. That makes going solar a much more attractive value proposition than with a flattened rate structure.

In fact, with all these changes, the payback period for a solar system in California would go from about 7 years to possibly over 20. Most homeowners and small businesses would not go solar in that situation.

It may be this triple threat to California solar — flattening rates, changes coming for net metering, and the end of the ITC — that brought out a record crowd for this third annual Solar Worker Day.

If you weren’t able to attend the event, there’s still a lot you can do to support the solar industry:

  • Write to your representative urging them to support net metering and distributed solar, solar-friendly electricity rates, extension of the ITC (and specifically, SJR 10), and solar for low-income renters (AB 693).
  • Sign the CALSEIA petition to extend the ITC.
  • Show your support for net metering and other issues on the TASC site, and sign up for their newsletter.
  • Join CALSEIA and sign up to be part of their action network.