Solar panels on a home
Solar panels on the rooftop of a home in Southern California. Courtesy LA Solar Group

The California Public Utilities Commission is about to make a decision that will impact every aspect of California’s solar industry, from the rates individuals pay for solar panels to how businesses like mine can afford to keep the lights on.

The future of the industry is hanging in the balance as CPUC commissioners review various proposals to change Net Energy Metering, or NEM, the program that determines how much electricity-bill savings can be achieved by consumers who deploy solar on their homes, public facilities and businesses.

The NEM program has been a main driver of the adoption of rooftop solar in California, where we’ve seen over 1.2 million solar installations — and the number is climbing. 

NEM makes it feasible for homeowners, non-profits, businesses, schools, and others to install solar (increasingly paired with battery storage) thanks to the financial returns from sharing excess clean power with the grid that in turn lowers electricity bills. The program allows individuals to practice environmental accountability and, in turn, makes our energy grid more reliable and resilient.

The utilities and others, including the Public Advocates office and Natural Resources Defense Council, are pushing  proposals that would allow the CPUC to gut the NEM program, raise rates, and extend the return-on-investment window — making solar less affordable, and threatening local jobs and businesses like mine.

HES Solar has been in business since 2001 and over the last 20 years we have seen the ups and downs of the “solar coaster” as we call it. The state’s largest and most powerful utility monopolies consistently attempt to put up road blocks for the solar industry, and year after year we push back. Our industry gives people the ability to free themselves from having to pay high rates, and the utilities do not like competition.

In California, there is a clear shift to clean, renewable energy with plenty of support from elected officials, environmentalists and everyday Californians who want to move toward a more sustainable future. Despite this, the utilities are determined to thwart our progress and place roadblocks on the way to achieving a greener future.

If the CPUC sides with the utilities and makes it harder for people to afford rooftop solar, it would negatively impact climate resilience in the face of record-setting wildfires. Just last week over the Thanksgiving holiday, San Diego Gas & Electric shut off power to over 48,000 San Diegans, citing the need to reduce the risk of fires sparking due to defective or damaged equipment in high winds.

Thousands of households were in the dark this Thanksgiving, but households with solar panels and battery storage were unaffected and resilient to these outages.

There is a growing desire and need for this kind of resilience that would help during blackouts and make our grid more resilient. We ought to be incentivizing this technology for California, not actively working to make it less affordable.

California is leading in renewable energy because policies like NEM make it practical for homeowners and businesses to install rooftop solar and do their part to participate in the clean energy movement.

If the CPUC decides to side with the utilities and gut NEM benefits, the solar industry in California will decline and all our progress thus far will be diminished. This will have far-reaching consequences, because we know that many states and nations look to California as a model.

As a state, we must continue to support policies that grow the solar industry and make it more affordable to all Californians. Together, we can make it easier, not harder, to achieve energy independence through abundant solar energy.

Ross Williams is CEO and Owner of HES Solar in San Diego.