OPINION – All across California’s African American communities, issues of equality and fairness should not only be thought of as civil rights issues, but also as economic issues. Every day, families and small businesses must bear the impact that poorly crafted policies or outright indifferences have had on their ability to economically thrive and succeed.
For these reasons and many like it, it is important that the California Black Chamber speak truth to power and challenge head-on those public policies which have an adverse impact on communities of color.
Such is the case when it comes to how we subsidize solar customers in California and the recent preliminary California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Net Energy Metering (NEM) decision that, if it stands, will perpetuate a broken system that will severely economically affect African Americans and minorities all across our state.
As it currently stands, non-solar customers, such as those who live in apartments, those who can’t afford solar, or those who own small businesses, help subsidize the state’s energy infrastructure. Solar customers, because of a generous subsidy, are effectively able to zero out their bills. This means that millions of non-solar customers, many of them African Americans, are footing the bill of solar customers who, by every measure, are a class of wealthy elites.
2015 was supposed to be the year when the CPUC addressed this intrinsic economic inequality by adopting real NEM reform. Instead, the CPUC’s preliminary decision not only ignores the adverse impact that the current NEM structure has on minorities, families, and small businesses who can’t go solar, but it also needlessly prolongs them.
The CPUC’s preliminary decision all but guarantees that non-solar customers will continue to pay higher energy costs to subsidize solar customers. While we can applaud our state’s pursuit of solar energy, this is not a pursuit that should result in non-solar customers paying more than a billion dollars in higher energy costs between now and 2020.
To add insult to injury, there is something inherently wrong about the fact that our state provides higher per capita subsidies to wealthy solar customers than it does to millions of lower income families.
When we consider the countless number of working- and middle-class families all across California who are struggling to pay their bills, why are our state’s solar energy policies making it more difficult for them to do so now, and in the years ahead?
Make no mistake, we support solar energy and our state’s clean energy goals, but real NEM reform should ensure that all customers – not just solar customers – help support our state’s energy infrastructure that will enable a cleaner energy future.
Real NEM reform would ensure that we are not punishing the many who cannot afford to pay more, simply in order to benefit the solar elite that can.
By Aubry Stone, President/CEO
California Black Chamber of Commerce