Friday, July 1, 2022







        The California Public Utilities Commission says it wants to help the little folks as it gets set to issue new rules governing the price of rooftop solar energy throughout the state.


        But long history says that when the PUC claims it is helping renters and other small utility customers, one Latin language term applies: Caveat emptor, Let the buyer beware.”


        That’s because for more than half a century, every major decision from this scandal-prone agency has favored large monopolistic utility companies over their customers.


From its refusal to shut down leaky natural gas storage facilities that pose health hazards for many thousands to its constant approvals of unreasonable rate increases that make California energy the nation’s most expensive, there has never been much doubt about whose interests the PUC considers paramount.


When companies like Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric start wildfires that kill hundreds and cause billions of dollars in damage, the PUC makes sure they stay whole and solvent, while the customers they harm usually wait years for compensation.


So it is again this summer, as the PUC – without any public demand for “reform” –gets set to issue a new set of rules for pricing of rooftop solar energy. Never mind that homeowners who invested tens of thousands of dollars in solar panels and battery systems were promised beforehand they’d get certain levels of payment for excess power they generate and put into the general grid. Now the PUC wants to lower those payments and thus the incentives for building more and more renewable energy into urban and suburban areas.


        Just how much will likely become known in the next month or two. An earlier iteration of the upcoming changes was dumped last winter amid a firestorm of protest.


        Why would the PUC want to change the current, very productive system at all? It claims to be acting to save money for people who can’t afford to install solar and for renters who have no authority to add it.


        For every dollar paid by solar owners, the PUC says, rates rise a fraction of a cent or so for everyone else.


        What the commission has never admitted is that the alternative – bringing solar thermal energy vast distances to the cities from gigantic solar farms in the state’s vast and sun-soaked deserts – would raise rates for the little guys far more.


        That additional money would go to the big utilities, whose rates are based partly on how much they spend building or buying facilities and equipment. It takes hundreds of miles of transmission lines to bring power from solar thermal farms to the cities. This translates to billions of dollars in expenses and a guaranteed 20-year profit on every cent of consumer-provided funds spent by the big companies.


        So yes, the utilities want ever more solar in the deserts, and ever less in the cities and suburbs. And the PUC, always looking after their interests while making pious claims to the contrary, is getting set to provide just that as the state seeks to use 100 percent renewable power within decades.


        One example: Within days of the PUC making its initial proposal to cut compensation to rooftop solar owners, the federal government okayed building two new solar thermal farms deep in the Mojave Desert. Expect utilities that will buy up that energy to start building new transmission lines to those locations soon after ground is broken.


        The idea of penalizing pioneering energy-conscious homeowners actually originated with the often misguided former Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, also the author of the highly destructive AB 5 that wrecked the professional lives of many freelancers and others. She proposed reneging on the longtime guarantee promising homeowners the rules would remain stable for at least 20 years after any rooftop solar system goes in.


        What’s more,, the PUC proposed a monthly fee of about $50 to $70 on each rooftop owner, plus price reductions for their extra output. That didn’t fly, at least not yet.


        No one knows just what the new proposal will contain, but one thing seems sure: It will again place the interests of the big utilities over those of their customers.



    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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