In summary

On Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission will vote on a controversial reform of the state’s rooftop solar program. Opponents who want to preserve the subsidies argue that the revised proposal goes too far and will undercut the clean energy transition.

Guest Commentary written by

Ambrose Carroll

The Rev. Ambrose Carroll, Sr., is senior pastor at Renewal Worship Center in Oakland and founded Green the Church to help facilitate the creation of clean energy hubs on church properties. He serves on the California Interfaith Power and Light steering committee and the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.  

In pulpits and pews statewide, a quiet revolution has been rising, steady and resolute. Black churches are mobilizing around climate and environmental justice issues, vowing to embrace sustainability and deploy renewable energy to help combat climate change.

Green the Church is among those organizations leading the way in advancing social and climate justice by rallying congregations to embrace the social and economic benefits of solar energy. But that vision for sustainable, faith-based communities across California could suffer a harsh blow. 

The California Public Utilities Commission’s misguided Net Energy Metering 3.0 proposal to regulate rooftop solar will put affordable renewable energy out of reach for too many Californians. The plan would slash the credit rooftop solar owners with battery storage receive by as much as 75%, and will significantly reduce the earning potential of solar systems over their lifetimes.

Green the Church has been working to empower 2,000 churches to add rooftop solar panels, backup storage and charging stations to their places of worship. We have been rallying Black churches to create “green” ministries, conduct energy audits and make their church operations and buildings more sustainable. 

In California and across the country, faith leaders have been stepping up.

The CPUC’s new proposal will devastate those plans. The revised policy fails to take into account churches, schools and small business. By April, any new solar sustainability programs will be subject to the punitive 75% scaling down of the NEM credit for feeding power back to the grid. As a result, any progressive solar sustainability program will simply not pencil out well if net metering is so aggressively scaled back. 

Church sustainability projects are in their infancy but some have already been wildly successful. One example is Bishop Jerry Macklin’s Glad Tidings Church in Hayward. The church is famous for leading the transformation of a once-underserved and gang-riddled community into an area reinvigorated with cohesion and hope. Macklin began purchasing rooftop solar panels and electric vehicles to house at the church site under his latest initiative, hoping to establish a resilience hub should the grid lose power. 

The project fulfills a moral and practical obligation. The church is doing its part by being a wise steward of our planet. The problem is that projects like this were conceived under the current rooftop solar program, and it would have been far more unlikely to accomplish if the proposed changes took effect. Fair NEM credits are key to expanding our sustainable vision for Black church communities. 

Churches with rooftop solar and battery storage are models for the clean energy transition. They are not only helping to alleviate the strain on the power grid but they are bringing energy justice to working-class communities. Their efforts should not be sacrificed on the altar of corporate greed. 

The big monopoly utilities in California have been waging a fight against rooftop solar to preserve their outsized profits. With the help of their special interest allies, these utilities are crushing the dream of a more affordable and reliable energy future. If the CPUC adopts the current proposal, the rich and powerful will win and communities of color and marginalized Californians will lose.

Too many Black and brown Americans are bearing the brunt of pollution, left to suffer on the front lines of the climate crisis. We need all boats to rise, and that is why environmental justice advocates have been marching in Sacramento. We need state regulators to stop paying lip service to climate justice and let us fulfill our dream of a clean energy future for all.

Churches must be allowed to continue fulfilling that righteous goal.

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The vote by CPUC commissioners on Thursday will have lasting effects on the growth of rooftop solar in California. Proponents who wish to see major reform say that the revised proposal does not go far enough, while other reformers believe it strikes a necessary balance.

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