AB 1990: California Power Companies are Fighting This Solar Legislation. But That’s Not the Whole Story

AB 1990 could quickly change the relationship between consumers and utilities
Ab 1990 seeks to provide high poverty neighborhoods with more solar developments and renewable energy. (Michaela Rehle/Reuters)
Aug 28, 2012
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

“California legislators are poised to vote this week on a pair of bills that would help renters and low-income communities go solar,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle. “But the bills have encountered stiff resistance from some utility companies, which call them unnecessary and expensive.”

“While California homeowners have been installing solar systems on their rooftops at a rapid clip, renters don't have that option. So one of the bills, SB 843, would allow renters to buy electricity from solar systems located elsewhere.”

“Another piece of legislation, AB 1990, tries to bring solar power to poor communities, particularly those suffering from high levels of pollution. It would order the state's utilities to buy electricity at a guaranteed price from solar systems located in those communities, as an incentive for solar developers to install systems there.”

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Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Edison are opposed to both bills, saying that, “SB 843 would require the utilities to buy large amounts of electricity from the new, renter-subscribed solar facilities at a price the utilities consider too high...AB 1990, meanwhile, largely duplicates the state's existing feed-in tariff program, [and] wouldn't guarantee that solar companies hire local workers in disadvantaged communities.”

While it might be easy to vilify PG&E and SCE for taking these positions, it’s worth noting that as far back as 2008, Wired, reporting on the top 10 utilities for solar power, said “As you might expect, Los Angeles’ utility, Southern California Edison, leads the list, followed by San Francisco’s Pacific Gas & Electric Company.”

And summarizing and commenting on a report that examined consumer adoption of solar panels and was prepared by  NYU Stern School of Business and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies this past May, RenewableEnergyWorld observed, that “52% of participating consumers installed solar panels for financial reasons. If the majority of customers are trying to save money on their electric bill, many may first look to their utility for answers. PG&E may be on the right track in California.”

“As a decoupled utility, PG&E actually benefits when its customers use less energy or go completely off-grid. The company recently invested $61 million in SolarCity and $100 million in SunRun, another solar leasing company. Despite being a decoupled utility, PG&E still gains a hefty profit each year of around $16 billion.”

Another article by RenewableEnergyWorld made comparisons between the changes now occurring with the utility companies and those that arose with the development of our cellular network. “When cellular telephony became mainstream, landline connections were not entirely cut off. Though usage has dropped, we still keep the connections. Similarly, even with widespread photovoltaic deployment, we will maintain connections with the classic grid. We need centralized generation from concentrated sources for large factories and railroads, and wired delivery at the consumption points. Substitution will not be complete and the utility architecture will stay in place.”

They go on to observe that, “In the face of transformative change, electric utilities face a lackluster future. They will lose usage and customers to renewable solutions, and they already have. But they might have a significant opportunity in a related area—the management of the information network linking millions of distributed generation points...It might lead to an alternate or smarter grid managing millions of customers and their rooftop generation and usage.”

Wherever it leads—and whatever the fate of AB 1990 and SB 843 may be—it’s clear that utility model we’ve known is a thing of the past.

Do you think the big utility companies are doing enough to promote and support renewable energy?

Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence | TakePart.com

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