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August 01, 2013

Solar Credits -- The Engine Behind a Clean Energy Transition for California

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California's solar rollover-credit program is creating quite a buzz across California. More commonly know as "net energy metering," the solar rollover-credit program is helping Californians install solar on their homes and businesses as part of the state's transition from dirty fuel sources to a more vibrant, clean-energy economy. The solar credit program benefits all Californians, both environmentally and economically. (Click the graphic to the left to enlarge).
The program works like cellphone rollover credits for your electric bill. If you have solar panels on your roof and produce more energy than you use, you receive a credit. This credit is used to offset your energy bills for the times during the week (nighttime) when your panels aren't generating electricity. The more clean power you put back into the grid, the less you have to pay on your energy bill. Essentially, you become a power source for your neighborhood. These programs break the hold that the big electric utilities have on our electricity bills.

By reducing the need for natural gas, solar net- metering programs also help clean up our air. According to the American Lung Association, seven of the ten counties across the nation (PDF) with the worst air pollution are in California. California has more than 660,000 cases of pediatric asthma, and more than 1.2 million adults suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which makes it increasingly difficult for a person to breathe. According to the National Resources Conservation Service, one of the main contributors to the poor air quality in heavily populated areas in California is the use of fossil fuels like natural gas. As more Californians turn to rooftop solar solar energy, we can ditch dirty fuels. This will help provide relief to the 90 percent of Californians (PDF) who live in counties where the air is unsafe to breathe.

While rooftop solar is great for our health, it also benefits the state's economy. Rooftop solar not only saves families money on their utility bills but also saves schools and other public facilities money. Schools and other public agencies alone have saved $2.5 billion due to the expansion of rooftop solar. This means schools have more money to buy new books, hire more teachers, and improve student-teacher ratios. By putting money back in our pockets, these kinds of programs also increase local economic activity that generates tax revenue. 

The most prominent benefit of rooftop solar is the jobs created. California has 43,000 solar jobs, a number that grows with every solar installation. Standing strong behind that expansion are the families installing solar panels on their homes. Essentially, individuals that install solar panels on their homes are creating jobs for their local neighborhoods. What's different about this economic boom is the prominent role of the middle class. Two-thirds of new solar installations are happening in middle or low-income neighborhoods.

Although some utility companies claim to support net-metering, in truth they fear the prospect of more customers going solar. That's because every solar home means one less customer for a big utility that has traditionally relied on profits based on burning dirty fuels. After 100 years of monopoly status, you can understand why powerful utilities like Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric, and San Diego Gas & Electric are worried.
To stop the growth of rooftop solar, the big utilities are trying to change how we pay our electric bill so that we have less incentive to go solar or even to conserve energy. Rather than charge customers as they use more power, the big utilities want to shift part of our bills to a new permanent charge. This means that a growing portion of your bill won't be offset by solar regardless of how much solar energy you produce. By doing this, utilities would undermine the value of solar and limit growth, especially in middle and low-income communities, which are now for the first time able to afford solar. This attack by utilities would significantly slow the growth of solar energy in California.
California and solar power go hand in hand. Protecting the environment, saving money, and creating jobs are three things the state needs desperately. In the coming weeks, we'll be talking more about California utilities' attack on rooftop solar. Right now though, you can take action here to protect rooftop solar.

-- Noel Leon, My Generation Campaign

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