By Roy L Hales
A group of Local elected officials, environmentalists and activists gathered on the steps of Sempra Energy’s headquarters, at 11:00 am, on Thursday. They came to protest Assembly Bill 327 (AB 327), which is backed by California’s investor-owned utilities, and were calling on the California Senate to change this bill so that it protects solar homeowners, the solar business, and schools. The group has launched a petition site (www.saveoursolar.com) which targets State Senators, urging them to kill the bill unless it is amended. SDG&E claims the present rate structure is not fair, some customers “pay 20 percent less than the cost to serve them, while customers in the top two tiers pay 50 percent more than their share.”
Some say SDG&E’s real motive is greed. The $123.4 million rate increase, which the California Public Utilities Commission authorized last May, will go into effect in four days. This comes only weeks after Sempra Energy reported profits of $423 million and SDG&E $156 million, for the first six months of 2013. AB 327 would bring additional profits. Had it not been for the costs connected to the shutting down of San Onofre, SDG&E would have earned more. One of the foremost speakers was County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who has been a consistent champion of her constituent’s interests against the utilities monopoly. “We stand together today in opposition to Assembly Bill 327, proposed state legislation that would seriously undermine our region’s efforts to conserve energy and tap into solar power,” Jacob said. “AB 327 directly contradicts over 20 years of smart public policy support for renewable energy and distributed generation solar. AB 327 pulls the rug out from under households, businesses, schools and municipalities that have responded to the call to conserve energy, produce energy and become more energy efficient. “Sempra Energy and SDG&E have shown again and again that they are willing to strong-arm consumers. Well, with this bill, they’re back at it. SDG&E already charges among the highest electricity rates in the nation. Ratepayers continue to pay a big price so Sempra and SDG&E shareholders can make big profits and their executives can continue to collect big bonuses. Now they want to tighten their grip on the energy market and make it even harder to plug into the future. “A key portion of Assembly Bill 327 would undercut energy conservation and rooftop solar across our region. It would remove financial incentives that encourage home-grown solar. It would slap a fixed, monthly fee of up to $10 on ratepayers, no matter how much they conserve. It would discourage the pursuit of renewable energy at a time when we need to step up our efforts to reduce energy usage and our utility bills. “Solar power is a huge part of California’s future. Sempra and SDG&E want to take a big step back. They are also engaging in shady tactics. Sempra is using a political action committee as a front to sell the public on the proposed bill. Quietly bankrolled by Sempra, the committee maintains a website and a Facebook page bent on misleading consumers about the Assembly bill.
“Given Sempra and SDG&E’s disgraceful track record with consumers, I wish I could say today that they are finally seeing the light. I wish I could say that they are thinking of ratepayers first. But the proposed legislation makes clear that Sempra and SDG&E are up to their same tired tactics. I urge state lawmakers to stand up for Californians and vote this bill down!” The next speaker was Lori Saldana, a Former California Assemblymember who served three terms, was a co author of AB 32 (the Global Warming Solution’s Act) and is currently Sierra Club San Diego chair. “The state of California has taken action over the past 10 years to encourage solar energy, but the Utilties, SDG&E and others, have worked in the other direction,” Saldana said. “They are trying to raid our pocket books. They are trying to increase the cost of utilities at the very time when their model of dirty energy is being shown to be out of date and out of touch with the reality of the future. We won’t continue to pay for their mistakes and that is what they are asking for us to do now. They are asking for us to invest in a model of energy that is frankly on its way out. So these Utilities, here in California, are the driving force behind this bill. As the Supervisor just said, they want to pave the way to increase the cost of utilities every month on people on people with fixed incomes.”
Daniel Sullivan, founder and president of Sullivan Solar Power, and founding board member of San Diego California Solar Industries Energy Association (CALSEIA) added that, “California’s solar industry is about much more than saving money on utility bills, it’s about our future, it’s about creating a sustainable region for our children and grandchildren, it’s about reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and it’s about our new energy economy and the jobs we are creating each and every day while making the world a better place. It’s high time the utilities get with the program and accept the fact rooftop solar is here to stay. We aren’t going away and we will not allow our future to be derailed by bad policies like those proposed in AB 327.” In response SDG&E’s issued a statement saying, “AB 327, the Ratepayers Equity Act, is not a fight about rooftop solar. SDG&E supports solar. To date, about 26,000 SDG&E customers have installed rooftop solar – a number that continues to grow as we set records every month for new solar installations. We have streamlined the PV interconnection process and offer an online solar calculator to help customers select the most cost-efficient solar array to meet their needs. “SDG&E strongly supports AB 327 as a necessary first step to begin to correct California’s broken, outdated and inequitable residential electric rate structure. The current rate structure does not reflect how customers use energy today. The 2001 legislation that established the tiered rate structure and capped rates for the bottom two tiers created a system so out of balance that customers in the bottom tiers now pay 20 percent less than the cost to serve them, while customers in the top two tiers pay 50 percent more than their share. “To help level the playing field, AB 327 would authorize, but not require, the CPUC to put in place a fixed customer charge that all residential customers would pay after considering recommendations and input from all potentially affected stakeholders. If the CPUC were to adopt such a charge, it would not be an additional cost. Instead, the cost per kilowatt-hour would be reduced by the amount of the customer fee, which would be capped at $10/month and at $5/month for low-income (CARE) customers. The actual amount of such a customer charge would be set by the CPUC and could be less. If adopted by the Commission, the proposal would apply to all residential customers of the state’s investor-owned utilities – not just SDG&E. “By itself, AB 327 does not change electric rates, but it includes proposals that allow the CPUC to address the key issues that have made the current rate structure unsustainable.” (Photo at top of page: County Supervisor Dianne Jacob addressing the crowd)