Fight to save rooftop solar in California heads to state Supreme Court – Environmental Working Group

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The fight to save California’s rooftop solar program now heads to the state Supreme Court, after it issued a rare decision to hear the appeal of a case that will determine the future of renewable energy in the state.

The court agreed on Wednesday to hear a challenge to a disastrous decision by the California public utilities commission, or CPUC, to decimate the state’s once-thriving rooftop solar program. The appeal was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, or CBD, Environmental Working Group and the Protect Our Communities Foundation.

The Supreme Court’s decision to take the case is a significant win for supporters of clean solar power because the court takes up just 3 percent of all appeals filed with it.

The decision comes months after the challengers filed a January 29 petition asking the high court to review a state appeals court ruling that upheld the CPUC’s decision. EWG said at the time that the appellate judges gave far too much deference to the commission on approving the change.

“The decision by the Supreme Court to consider the case is crucial to aligning the standards for reviewing CPUC decisions with those of other public agencies,” said EWG General Counsel Caroline Leary. “Without it, unjust deference to powerful interests like the state’s monopoly electric companies undermines legislative intent and obstructs fair decision-making.”

In December 2022, the CPUC slashed the financial credits provided to new solar users for excess solar energy generated from their panels and sent to the grid. Utilities pushed for the change to weaken demand for solar, their biggest competition in California. The changes to this net metering program, or NEM, went into effect on April 15, 2023, and the challengers then filed a lawsuit against the decision.

That court case resulted in the ruling upholding the CPUC’s decision. But the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the appeals court’s ruling is a chance to undo the damage and save solar.

“The court’s intervention is necessary to clarify whether the commission can disregard societal benefits in setting tariffs for residential rooftop generation and fulfill its obligation to promote rooftop solar growth in disadvantaged communities under the NEM statute,” said Leary.

“The Supreme Court’s decision is a ray of hope for rooftop solar at a time when plummeting installations and massive layoffs are wrecking this vital industry and jeopardizing California’s climate goals,” said Roger Lin, a senior attorney at CBD.

“The Public Utilities Commission made a huge mistake that’s putting rooftop solar’s benefits out of reach for working-class families. But the commission isn’t immune from legal review, and I’m now a lot more optimistic that we can get back to a reasonable policy that helps California fight the climate emergency and environmental injustice,” he added.

The outcome of the case before the state’s highest court promises to reverberate far beyond California’s borders. It will set a precedent for similar clashes between clean energy advocates and monopoly utilities across the nation.

“We commend the California Supreme Court for its decision to review the lawsuit,” said EWG President and Bay Area resident Ken Cook.

“Before the state completely relinquishes its longstanding leadership in building the most ambitious clean energy program in the nation, it is imperative the high court consider all the evidence showing the social benefits residential solar provides to every resident of the state,” he said.

The CPUC’s disastrous decision at the behest of the state’s big three investor-owned power companies to quash California’s wildly successful solar program has decimated the state’s once-booming solar industry. It has caused more than 17,000 jobs losses and numerous bankruptcies for many installer companies throughout the state.

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. 

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