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“Solar Bill of Rights” (SB-288) Passes First Test

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

Sun Light & Power’s Founder and CEO Gary Gerber, and employee owners Steven Broyles and Seamas Brennan joined an earnest group of solar advocates and concerned citizens on Wednesday, April 11, in Sacramento to testify in favor of what is called “The Solar Bill of Rights” (SB-288) before the California Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee. The bill was voted on despite pre-hearing maneuvers orchestrated by utility companies to attempt to pull SB-288 from the agenda just 30 minutes before the hearing. Fortunately, with a throng of over 50 strong supporters cramming the hearing room and the hall outside, the bill’s principal author, Scott Wiener (D), stood fast and insisted on a hearing and a vote.

The Solar Bill of Rights will protect the citizen’s right to generate, store, and distribute energy without interconnection delays, high fees, and punitive monthly charges. Testimony in favor of SB-288 was compelling. Walnut Farmer Gary Thiara explained that he has been waiting “in limbo” for his system to be connected for over two years, and probably would not proceed if he were starting today. Others underscored the vital cost saving benefits of solar for those living on low and fixed incomes. Gary Gerber pointed out that solar panel owners are already being penalized for their conservation efforts and contribution to the power grid’s resiliency. Last year his household paid PG&E over $1,000 in utility fees and charges to power his solar powered home; a home that had a true-up of $0 in utility costs when the solar system was installed over 15 years ago.

Praise for the bill was overwhelming but not unanimous. The major California utilities’ message was clear; keep citizens out of the power generation business and make sure that all solar is installed by union electricians only. In sharp contrast to the optimistic bi-partisan cooperation noted by Chair, Senator Ben Hueso (D), long-time utility ally Senator Steven Bradford (D), attempted to claim that solar power was “not bi-directional”, and insisted the bill would offer “no benefit” to consumers. Instead, he said it would be one of the biggest wastes of tax payer money ever, and should be “a crime”. There was little support on this committee for Bradford’s position, and there was a long parade of consumers and solar workers who testified in strong favor of this bill.

In spite of the 11-0 positive vote for SB-288, this bill’s journey to the Governor’s desk will undoubtedly require constant pressure on behalf of consumers and organizations such as CALSSA and the Solar Right Alliance (SRA) to overcome the deep pockets of the utilities and their allies in the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers). The Appropriations Committee hearing in May will be the next proving ground for this landmark bill.

Seamas Brennan is a Blog Contributor, Researcher, and Engineering Admin. Assistant at Sun Light & Power.