Reversing climate change and addressing income inequality are the twin challenges of our time. Solving them both means a safer, more stable future for generations to come.
If we don’t stop and reverse climate change, our environment and our economy could collapse. If we don’t address the growing gap between rich and poor, our political structures and our economy will continue to fray, robbing us of both the funds and the political will to address climate change.
These challenges are irreversibly linked — and we can’t solve one without solving them both.
That’s why progressives, labor leaders and everyone who cares about addressing these twin threats should oppose the California Public Utility Commission’s recent proposed decision to require poor utility customers to subsidize richer customers and the new Wall-Street funded quasi-utilities serving these wealthy customers.
The California Public Utilities Commission’s decision is on a technical issue called Net Energy Metering: the system that provides subsidies for the installation of residential solar systems by forcing utilities to buy surplus energy generated on rooftops at an artificially high price. For a long time it made sense to provide these very generous subsidies — we all benefit from a robust solar industry. Some of us closest to the economics of solar thought it made more sense to subsidize larger solar installations, which are up to three times more cost-effective than residential solar systems. But broad adoption of solar and renewable power is a goal we must all support.
But what is happening now is that Wall Street has figured out how to game the system. And what usually happens when Wall Street financiers and speculators get involved is happening now in solar — the rich are being subsidized by the poor.
Net Energy Metering allows wealthier solar customers to sell the power they produce back to power providers at retail rates. Solar customers might think they are “off the grid,” but their lights still go on at night or when the sun isn’t shining because they are using the electric grid as a giant free battery.
But they don’t pay for it, others do. And “others” are renters and homeowners without the funds to install solar.
Solar customers are by every measure wealthier and whiter than traditional power customers. That’s because it’s expensive to install rooftop solar (between $12,000 and $40,000, even with the generous tax credits), and because you generally have to own your home in order to install the panels. What’s more, the panels are typically leased to the homeowner by a company like SolarCity. Those companies then bundle the leases and sell them to investors (sound familiar?), and it is not the customer but the investors who receive both the tax credit and the benefit of the Net Ene千花网论坛