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California energy giants battle over future of solar power systems, influence on energy usage and accessibility

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — The future of rooftop solar is in the crosshairs as state regulators review whether there should be changes to credits that lower electric bills. Alliances have formed that have brought together organizations that are often adversaries, including major utility companies.

Clean energy is part of our focus in Building A Better Bay Area. ABC7 News reporter David Louie looks at the battle over the future of solar in California.

For years, homeowners have had a financial incentive to install rooftop solar. Credits are given for energy they don’t need that’s exported to the power grid. That reduces their electric bills. It has also led to 1.3 million solar power systems to be installed across the state.

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However, the state’s public utilities commission is reviewing the program, called net energy metering. It has triggered a battle with very unusual alliances and very graphic lobbying.

“It can be reformed to continue to grow rooftop solar in California, which is a good thing,” said Kathy Fairbanks. “We all support that. And it can also be reformed to make it more fair and more equitable so that people from disadvantaged communities are not shouldering the burden.”

Fairbanks represents Affordable Clean Energy for All, a coalition of consumer, senior, social justice and business groups which are known to butt heads with the utility giants.

However, PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric are part of the coalition. They argue that the poor subsidize wealthier homeowners who get solar energy credits. And the poor can’t install solar if they are renters.

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Many other groups are providing recommendations to state regulators as they assess program revisions. The solar industry is also weighing in, concerned that reform could be harmful at a time when there is more focus on clean energy.

“Nobody’s going to go solar if it costs you more money to do that. Nobody,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro with the California Solar & Storage Association. “And we’re going to lose tens of thousands of jobs. We’re going to lose hundreds of businesses, and we’re going to have no relief from blackouts, wildfires and rising rates.”

The California Public Utilities Commission is expected to release its recommendation in December.

See more stories and videos about solar energy here.

See more stories and videos about Building a Better Bay Area here.

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