Today, California has more solar rooftops than anywhere else in the country. Thousands of solar companies call the state home, employing more than 54,000 workers. In fact, more Californians now work in solar than for the state’s five largest utilities combined. Customers across the state are projected to save billions of dollars on their electricity bills. This is a true California success story.
When I was elected mayor of Los Angeles in 2005, it was clear to me that the state’s and the city’s coal-heavy power mix had to change if we were to move toward a more sustainable future. Los Angeles is a city with more than 300 days of sunshine, with an appetite for bold actions. I set the path for the L.A. Department of Water and Power to reach 20 percent renewables by 2010, and we achieved it. I also announced L.A. would stop using coal-fired power by 2025 and replace it with clean energy sources, including more rooftop solar.
I support rooftop solar because it is good for the environment and it creates jobs – local jobs closer to where people live. California has increased solar jobs over the past decade, and what’s driving this job growth is solar’s appeal to a broad spectrum of Californians.
On average, families save 10 to 20 percent on their electric bills, which puts more money back in their pockets. More and more, the solar revolution is being driven by the middle and lower middle class: according to the Center for American Progress, roughly 60 percent of rooftop solar installations occur in homes with incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000.
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Regardless of whether a family has gone solar, all Californians benefit from rooftop solar because it increases clean energy generated in our communities, reducing the need to build costly new power plants to keep up with the energy demand. It eases the strain on the electric grid during peak demand hours, which can affect pricing during the hottest days of the year. And going solar saves everyone money.
While we see the immediate impacts of rooftop solar on a customer’s bill, we also know that increasing solar and clean energy production reduces climate impacts, promotes water conservation, builds a more resilient power system and protects public health.
For some of California’s most disadvantaged communities, cleaner energy means better health. California has some of the highest asthma rates in the nation, causing our children to miss an estimated 1.47 million school days every year. The White House estimates that across the country employing cleaner energy solutions, such as solar, can result in avoiding 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks and 90,000 asthma attacks each year.
Let’s create pathways, not roadblocks, for meaningful local solar growth. The California Public Utilities Commission’s recent proposed decision on the future of rooftop solar wisely continues the successful net metering policy and rejects utility proposals to end net metering and undermine customer choice. Opponents of rooftop solar are lobbying the PUC to change course and impose more fees on new solar customers. The PUC must stand firm against these attacks.
We need to support and encourage the growth of local rooftop solar rather than making it harder for customers to embrace clean energy. Now, more than ever, California needs to think big when it comes to our energy production – and by thinking big, I mean thinking small, with rooftop solar.
I urge the PUC to continue to embrace the positive impacts rooftop solar has on California’s communities and support its continued growth.
Antonio Villaraigosa is the former mayor of Los Angeles.