Capitol Alert

AM Alert: Rooftop solar industry worries about cloudy days ahead

A SolarCity employee works on a solar panel installation at a home in Camarillo, Calif., on June 27, 2014.
A SolarCity employee works on a solar panel installation at a home in Camarillo, Calif., on June 27, 2014. The New York Times

California is moving forward aggressively with adoption of renewable energy, but it may be leaving rooftop solar panels behind.

While the industry has enjoyed steady growth in the state for years, it’s recently hit a wall with the phase-out of strong customer incentives officials say are needed to continue expanding; an unsuccessful push to be included in California’s new goal of generating half its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, which would have meant a guarantee of more business, was a particularly big loss.

Now the solar industry is facing a potentially existential crisis over net metering, the process that allows panel users to sell excess energy back to the grid. As part of a law designed to flatten out electricity costs for customers, the California Public Utilities Commission must adopt new regulations on net metering by the end of the year. Utility companies, who argue that they need to cover the cost of maintaining the grid, have proposed to cut by nearly half the purchase value of rooftop-generated energy. That would increase users’ bills and, the industry says, remove the financial appeal of going solar.

Rooftop solar groups have launched a full-scale campaign aimed at the utilities commission, which meets today in Sacramento. Joined by farmers, business leaders and solar workers from the region, they will make the case that changes to net metering could cripple their industry and cost thousands of jobs, 11 a.m. on the north steps of the Capitol.

HANDS UP, DON’T SHOOT: A rash of officer-involved deaths of unarmed black men last year spurred grand legislative ambitions to curb police violence this year, but the end results were mixed at best. While Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law supporters hope will cut down on racial profiling, numerous bills to expand the use of body cameras faltered under opposition from law enforcement. It remains to be seen whether those efforts will return to the Capitol next year, but the issues certainly aren’t going away. The Sacramento-based community group Justice Reform Coalition will host a rally to “stop policy brutality,” noon on the south steps of the Capitol.

WORDS MATTER: Advocates are working to change the way the public thinks about the act of buying sex from a minor – not as “child prostitution,” but as “child sex trafficking.” It’s a notion that has already gained some traction in California; lawmakers this year passed Senate Bill 420, by Sen. Bob Huff, R-San Dimas, to distinguish in crime statistics between buying or selling sex with an adult and with someone underage. Human Rights Project for Girls executive director Malika Saada Saar will be at the Sacramento Press Club, noon at the Capitol Plaza Ballroom on 9th Street, to discuss the new #NoSuchThing campaign, which contends that victims of child sex trafficking have been treated as criminals and have not received the assistance they need because people have an incorrect perception of their circumstances.

BENEFIT TO BE TIED: In 2013, the Little Hoover Commission released a report criticizing the California Department of Veterans Affairs for leaving hundreds of millions of dollars in federal veterans benefits on the table each year. The independent state oversight agency will hold a follow-up hearing, 9 a.m. in Room 437 of the Capitol, to review CalVet’s progress in reaching out to veterans and assisting them in obtaining benefits, as well as to begin a new review of the department’s veterans homes and home loan programs.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff