• Steve Brown

AB5 Author Moves to Kill Rooftop Solar in California

Representative Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), celebrates the signing of Assembly Bill 5 with Governor Gavin Newsom in September 2019.
Representative Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), celebrates the signing of Assembly Bill 5 with Governor Gavin Newsom in September 2019.

Representative Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat representing California's 80th Assembly District, which encompasses southern San Diego, is once again pushing legislation as a favor to influential friends. Her authorship of Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), pushing what was generally acknowledged to be a flawed and poorly written bill as a favor to organized labor interests in 2019 is continuing to generate problems for independent contractors and the self-employed in California, despite attempts to fix the bill after its passing.

Now, Gonzalez is back at it, pushing AB 1139, a bill that would effectively kill the future of rooftop solar energy in California as a favor to the state's utility companies.

AB 1139 would effectively gut the policy of net metering (also known as net energy metering). Net metering allows for homes, apartment buildings, businesses, and even schools with solar power generation capability (often rooftop solar) to receive a fair credit for the power they generate that is fed into the utility grid for use by others. As Dave Rosenfeld, executive director of the Solar Rights Alliance, the association of California solar users, notes in a guest editorial for CalMatters:

"This is great for the public, but not for PG&E’s profits. The more communities make their own energy, the less they buy from PG&E. The less they buy, the less PG&E profits. This is because making energy locally reduces the need for long-distance poles and wires. This doesn’t mean PG&E will go bankrupt at the hands of all those little solar consumers, but it does mean PG&E may not be able to pay their corporate executives $1.7 billion like they did in 2017."

AB 1139 is being presented under the guise of social justice, something California's Democratic representatives appear to be happily touting while doing the utility companies' dirty work.

"The newest Gonzalez project is – like AB 5 – a wolf in sheep’s clothing," writes Thomas D. Elias for The Coast News Group. "Where AB 5 originally required companies using contract workers to convert them to regular employees who could then be unionized, AB 1139 purports to stabilize conditions for California residents installing solar panels atop their homes.

"AB 5 caused or threatened to cause an end to the jobs of thousands of Californians, from freelance writers to court reporters to musicians. Similarly, AB 1139 would likely stifle rooftop solar installations around the state, home to about half of all such projects nationally."

While the bill continues to be amended as it moves toward a vote in the Assembly, recent amendments were criticized as making a bad bill worse. The California Solar + Storage Association notes:

AB 1139 would:

  • Make going solar more expensive for every ratepayer, including non-residential consumers like schools and farms and including those on CARE rates or living in multi-family affordable housing.

  • Eliminate 20-year grandfathering for 1.0 and 2.0 customers, including schools and farms,

  • Introduce new "grid access" monthly charge that will add $50-$86/month for the typical residential solar use. Charge would be more for larger, non-residential systems.

  • Bottom line: The bill hurts low income and at-risk communities the most and does nothing to create equity or diversity in the market, quite the opposite. It moves California backward.

Utilities and Energy Committee has amended the bill. The amendments would make the bill worse.

Amendments include:

  • Deleting statutory language from 2013 ensuring “sustainable growth” of rooftop solar via NEM.

  • Cause energy bills to increase for renters living in solarized buildings

  • Set retroactive changes for current solar customers, including low income, schools and farms. 5 years from date of service for non-CARE (including non-residential) and 10 years for CARE. It is important to note that for most CARE customers, a solar system takes on average 10 years to pay for itself. To un-grandfather these systems in year ten is to erase all hope of actually saving money from going solar.

  • Adds high mandatory monthly fees applied only to solar users, including low-income.

  • Adds prevailing wage for all solar installs (This is a Trojan Horse as the bill would undermine the entire job market)

  • Eliminates the one good thing that was previously in AB 1139: funds for low-income and at-risk communities to go solar

  • Would instate a so called “no cost shift” NEM 3 unless the PUC adopts a NEM 3 by Feb 1, 2022.

In addition to concerns about overall impacts on rooftop solar development in California, Mojave Watch has concerns that by reducing incentives for continuing to develop rooftop solar power generation, the focus will shift to destroying more pristine desert habitat in the name of "green" power generation.

AB 1139 is opposed by numerous environmental and green energy organizations, including Environment California, Defenders of Wildlife, the Morongo Basin Conservation Association, CALPIRG, and others, as currently written, while supporting efforts to increase provision of clean energy for low-income Californians. Unfortunately, the bill's implications for desert habitat as well as rural desert residents, are not addressed.

Mojave Watch encourages Californians and those concerned about the future of rooftop solar power generation to sign the Save California Solar petition to Governor Newsom and the California Public Utilities Commission, below:

For more information:

AB 1139 Text and Revisions

AB 1139 (Gonzalez) Amendments Make Bad Bill Worse

What is CA AB 1139 and Why Should You Care?

California Focus: This bill could kill rooftop solar

Utilities are trying to stymie rooftop solar in California

Assemblywoman Who Said “F*CK Elon Musk” Backs A Proposal To Kill Rooftop Solar In California

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