More Solar, Not Less
By Van Jones and Roger Kim
Huffington Post blog
May 22, 2012
If you listen only to the propaganda machine of the
Koch Brothers, the power companies and the "clean coal"
industry, solar power is only desirable to a white rich
ex-hippie with a Malibu beach house.
Their latest tactic is to paint local clean energy,
such as rooftop solar, as an elitist energy source that
low-income Californians and people of color are
Pitting the interests of low-income ratepayers and
people of color in California against the solar
industry and clean energy future is wrong and won't
work. Ask the Texas oil companies that tried to pass
Proposition 23 in 2010, which would have repealed the
state's pioneering clean energy law, AB 32. Voters of
color and residents from low-income communities
overwhelmingly rejected that proposition because they
understood that California's climate policies were good
for their health and the economy.
A 2011 poll by the Public Policy Institute of
California found that 79% of Asians, 83% of Blacks and
88% Latinos think that climate change is a serious
threat to the economy and their quality of life. That
same poll found that people of color believe more
strongly than the general population that it is
necessary to take steps immediately to counter the
effects of climate change. People of color are the
strongest supporters of a clean energy and climate
change fighting agenda in California.
When it's done right, low-income Californians and
people of color have more to gain from the widespread
adoption of local clean energy than anyone else. The
more solar power that comes online, the faster we will
be able to turn off the dirtiest power plants --
"peaker" plants -- which are the most polluting, least
efficient and most expensive source of power we have.?
Most "peaker" plants are located in our poorest
communities. If there are subsidies that need to end,
it's the subsidies to dirty energy producers and the
heavy price poor Californians pay with their health as
a result of last century's pollution based power
Today, local clean energy like solar is making strong
inroads in lower and middle-income communities.
Innovative financing programs are changing the
demographics of solar customers in California.
According to the PV Solar Report, nearly two thirds of
California home solar installations in 2009, 2010 and
2011 were in zip codes with median annual household
incomes between $40,000 and $85,000 and not in the
wealthiest areas of the state?
Oakland-based Solar Mosaic is using creative, crowd-
sourced financing to spread the benefits even further.
Ultimately what is needed are incentives, which assure
the availability of local clean energy in California's
lowest income communities.
Central to the move towards localized clean energy is a
little-known policy called "net metering." This policy,
pioneered in California and now copied by 43 other
states, is a simple billing arrangement that ensures
solar customers receive fair credit for the electricity
their systems generate. It operates like rollover
minutes on a cell phone. When the customer doesn't use
all the power from their rooftop solar panels, the
extra energy is sent back onto the electric grid for
the benefit of other customers. In turn, the solar
customer owner gets credit on their electric bill.
Today, there are over 100,000 rooftop solar energy
systems in California and net metering is the policy
responsible for 99% of them.
The savings to regular folks is significant, which is
why the utilities are so worried about this threat to
With the Public Utilities Commission poised to boost
the net metering program later this month, utilities
are trying to make an end-run to halt their action in
the Legislature. Lawmakers would be wise to reject that
bill and support policies that expand clean energy for
low and middle-income communities. One such bill is the
"Solar For All" legislation introduced by
Assemblymember Fong that provides further incentives
for renewable energy in low-income communities.
We have an opportunity to build a clean energy system
that is good for all of California's residents,
businesses and the planet. But to do so we need bold,
holistic and comprehensive strategies that wean us off
fossil fuels. The utilities' opposition to local clean
energy, and in this case, to net metering, sends us in
the wrong direction: backwards.
Van Jones is author of the New York Times bestseller,
The Green Collar Economy and Rebuild the Dream. Roger
Kim is Executive Director of Asian Pacific
Environmental Network (APEN).
Follow Van Jones on Twitter: www.twitter.com/VanJones68
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