More than 30 Angelenos showed up on short notice on June 1 at the Echo Park office of Rep. Wendy Carrillo to protest their authorship of AB 1139, a state piece of legislation designed to cut roof-top solar incentives for California residents.
It was the last thing some observant California residents would have expected to prevent lawmakers from doing. During the spring, a bill to cut incentives for rooftop solar power and reward residents who feed energy into the grid became a serious threat to pass the legislation.
Two Democrats who are not keeping up with their party’s clean energy platform took the lead. To evoke the consequences of their advance, and at a moment when solar power blames champions for the White House and Congress, saving the rooftop solar in California became a test for progressive leaders on the ground. Could informed electoral rejections in the legislature’s constituency and an anti-solar shorting wave hit big utility companies in Sacramento politics inside play?
In addition to increasing fees on the accounts of residents who produce solar power, the bill would remove the responsibility of utilities to increase the production of clean energy from dispersed sources.
The law, AB 1139, was introduced by Los Angeles Rep. Wendy Carrillo and Lorena Gonzalez. In addition to increasing fees on the accounts of residents who produce solar power, the bill would remove the responsibility of utilities to increase the production of clean energy from dispersed sources. This provision remained a smoke gun in relation to the purpose of the bill, despite sponsors’ efforts to disguise it.
The Democrats control both the State Assembly and Senate by more than 3 to 1. Still, some utilities that still rely on fossil fuels are still adept at it, as are some Democrats who are overly dependent on campaign donors , which many progressive voters refuse to stray from the high level and instead conduct corporate bidding. Reps Gonzalez, a key recipient of police force funds, and Carrillo, who takes large checks from charter school promoters, are committed. Gonzalez brought the additional stamp of approval to chair the budget committee.
The democratic platform is so committed to clean energy, including solar energy, that sun symbols are smiling from the logos of many candidates for state offices and for positions in the state and county party structure. Topics to talk about the benefits of rooftop solar panels include lines of applause at democratic candidate rallies and fundraisers across the state. California is such a pioneer in moving to solar energy and away from fossil fuels that candidates from Jerry Brown in the 1970s to Tom Steyer in 2020 pitched for the presidential run on the revolutionary potential and advancement of solar energy.
Young volunteers cast their votes against AB 1139, a California law that would take utility companies off the hook to increase clean energy from residential sources.
AB 1139 was a counterattack. Their role models were beneficial policies in Arizona and Utah that had disastrous results. The rollout of rooftop solar panels collapsed in both states after new mandates from large utility companies changed the rules. Long-term benefits are critical for many homeowners when choosing a solar system, as it often takes years to have lower bills and amortizations for donating locally generated energy to other consumers on the grid to cover initial overheads. Instead of promoting solar energy on the roof, some utilities realized that they could bring back profits and develop higher revenue streams by crippling its spread to residential customers. Campaign donations often help buy the ears and intervention of willing state lawmakers. Could the California Democrats be the means in a blue state to do what Republicans did to residents of other Southwest states?
The law met with strong opposition from a coalition of leading solar energy companies, and advocates of environmental justice were quick to rise to the challenge. “The blow to the rooftop solar system through this law could not come at a worse time,” wrote East Area Progressive Democrats (EAPD) in a letter dated May 2021 to the legislature and the more than 1,000 members of the club. “It is becoming more and more affordable for ordinary homeowners to install solar systems on the roof, and costs have fallen by 70 percent in the last ten years. Three out of seven new recruits are on the roofs of households with low to middle income. This trend is particularly encouraging in California, where about half of all solar installations across the country are located. ”
AB 1139, the club warned, would remove the government requirement on utility companies that “production at the customer site continue to grow sustainably”. The bill “is one of the most regressive counter-attacks on clean energy in the entire United States. It would concentrate energy in both an electrical and a political sense in the hands of electricity companies that are still dependent on fossil fuels ”.
On June 1, more than 30 Angelenos, led by voters for MP Wendy Carrillo, showed up at their Echo Park office just a day in advance to conduct a safe protest and urge them not to act. That night, the bill was tabled in an LA County Democratic Party committee with insufficient support to receive a recommendation. The next day, AB 1139 failed in the plenary session of the State Assembly by 27 votes to 27 with 25 abstentions, embarrassingly just below the 41 votes required for the adoption. It could return through a maneuver called gut-and-amend and replace its contents in another bill to revive it. Maybe it will come back next spring.
The victory for those who advocate clean energy and the environment holds a lesson and a memory for now. As the deadly threat of COVID from vaccination wears off, it is a necessary deterrent to their poor policies, which defy progressive values and the public interest, to come together safely to protest negative legislative action. It’s also a reminder that not all elected Democrats are created equal, and those who put greedy campaign donors above voter economics and the survival of the environment and planet break the bond of trust with Californians. Especially when the legislature deviates, the voters have the last word.