Buffy Wicks visited Sun Light & Power on March 15, 2019 to discuss the challenges facing California solar, and strategies for securing our energy future. The inspiring conversation covered a range of topics including PG&E obstruction tactics, local solar jobs, power grid resiliency, and the democratization of energy. Wicks was adamant that in California, “We should have solar everywhere, otherwise we leave power on the table every single day.”
PG&E and Allies Still Punishing Solar
Sun Light & Power’s CEO Gary Gerber and COO Troy Tyler explained that since 1976, SLP has installed 30 Megawatts of commercial, multi-family, and residential photovoltaic solar. This translates to roughly 5,000 projects and includes 200,000 square feet of solar thermal solar panels. SLP has also trained and employed hundreds while contributing $18 million in tax revenue to California since 2000. Like most solar installers, this work has been completed with a Contractor’s B, and/or a Solar C-46 License. Nevertheless, the IBEW and C-10 license holders are incredulously citing safety concerns in an effort to force the CSLB to require all storage installers to carry a C-10 license. Gerber described the tactic as a “power grab” designed to divert all possible solar + storage business to journeymen electricians. These “inside wiremen” connect commercial customers’ electrical systems to an outside power source. Gerber believes this is part of a larger IBEW strategy to kill off all behind-the-meter distributed generation and restrict all solar to utility-owned and utility-scale installations.
CA Solar + Storage Association (CALSSA) Campaign Director Joshua Buswell-Charkow explained that while solar has rendered the construction of new fossil fuel power plants in California unnecessary, PG&E and their powerful allies (the Edison Institute and the IBEW) have refused to acknowledge the value of distributed generation, the contributions and expertise of solar installers, or the needs of the community. Sun Light & Power’s Rebquah Markham pointed out that PG&E routinely delays all types of solar interconnections and has made the installation of solar paired with battery backup systems nearly impossible. This egregious policy undermines net-zero greenhouse gas emission goals which can only be attained with storage.
Combined with PG&E’s fixed charges, minimum charges, and their new Time of Use and Tiered Rate Structure – neither of which favor peak solar generation periods, it is no wonder that the utility was identified as the single largest obstacle to solar during the meeting. PG&E’s “mixed signals” are completely out of line with the rollout of the Title 24 California mandate that requires solar for most new residential constructions starting in 2020. This is a challenging and crucial job that needs every adequately trained solar installer onboard.
Solar Jobs Help Everyone
Lovee Mayu and Neal Arbuckle, two of Sun Light & Power’s 30+ member installer team, described how the four week Rising Sun Energy Center program from Grid Alternatives provided them with the basic solar training that facilitated their recruitment by SLP and the good wages and benefits they now enjoy. Assemblymember Wicks was impressed that SLP is an employee owned ESOP and Certified Benefit Corporation, and that nearly half of its employee owners live and work in her district. She also suggested that a solar apprenticeship program could be a path for previously incarcerated persons to develop valuable skills, reenter the workforce, and contribute to society.
Concerned about our increasing vulnerability to power outages triggered by extreme weather, Assemblymember Wicks inquired about the feasibility of local microgrids, their relationship with emerging CCAs, and the cost of residential solar. Troy Tyler described most CCAs as “green” allies and explained that affordable rooftop solar is essential for local microgrids. He noted several incentives for home owners and businesses wishing to contribute to local community resiliency including; rebates (SOMAH, CSIT, and SGIP), lease options, solar financing, tax credits, and an average price of $20,000-$40,000 for a typical home. Gary Gerber added that total home electrification using 100% solar power has been achievable for the past five years using off-the-shelf appliances such as heat pump space heaters, heat pump water heaters, induction ranges, and high efficiency electric dryers. Eliminating fossil fuels has never been more feasible.
The Right to Generate: Democratizing Power
Assemblymember Wicks, Joshua Buswell-Charkow, and the Sun Light & Power team also discussed the bipartisan “Solar Bill of Rights” SB-288, which would empower citizens with the right to generate, store, and/or sell power without unreasonable interconnection red tape and punitive charges. This legislation has the potential to help Californians achieve a safe, affordable, reliable, renewable, and clean energy future. The Sun Light & Power team closed the uplifting meeting by strongly suggesting that decisions regarding power generation and storage should be in the hands of citizens and their representaives rather than the utilities.
Seamas Brennan is a Blog Contributor, Researcher, and Engineering Admin. Assistant at Sun Light & Power.