Soapbox

Latinos shouldn’t be pawns in fight over rooftop solar power

Arturo Carmona
Arturo Carmona

The three largest utility companies in California – Pacific Gas and Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison – have been using Latinos and others who live in middle- and lower-income communities as pawns in a war against rooftop solar.

Unfortunately, the longer their war continues, the more harm will come to Latinos and other communities of color. We are bearing the brunt of toxic pollution from utility-run coal plants. Latinos, who are concentrated in the drought-stricken Southwest and coastal cities like Miami, are on the front lines of extreme weather caused by climate change.

But, of course, the powerful utilities are looking out for their best interests, not ours. For years they have been trying to buy off Latino legislators to limit the expansion of rooftop solar and increase our community’s dependence on dirty energy that is poisoning us.

The effort to add fees on solar is part of an insidious effort by utility companies across the country to keep us tied to their sources of energy. The trouble for utilities – which refuse to modernize with clean energy because of the obscene profits they gain from fossil fuels – is that the more people generate their own clean electricity through solar panels, the less they are paying those utilities.

Here in California, net metering has brought jobs and clean energy to our communities. Two-thirds of all rooftop solar installations are in middle- and low-income neighborhoods, creating more than 47,000 jobs in our state, 20 percent of them Latino. The program has been so successful that a recent report by the NAACP called for net metering to be a mandatory policy.

With their profits on the line, it’s no wonder that this year the power companies are again attacking solar, this time before the California Public Utilities Commission. With public hearings on the state’s electricity rate design in full swing, the utility industry is trying to twist the truth and argue that reducing the savings people get from switching to solar is actually a good thing for Latinos and other low-income communities. This is false.

To add insult to injury, the utilities want to reduce rates for the wealthiest, high-end energy users in the state and increase energy bills on middle- and lower-income families.

But this is about more than energy bills.

Refineries and power plants have long been placed in low-income communities of color, who as a result have suffered disproportionately from asthma, cancer and other illnesses linked to pollution from dirty energy sources.

It should be no surprise that our communities want more renewable energy, not less. Rooftop solar is wildly popular among Latinos, with 80 percent of Latino voters in California believing that state leaders should make it a high priority to increase rooftop solar energy. Other polls of Latinos and other communities of color across the country also reflect a strong level of support for clean energy alternatives over fossil fuels.

In addition, communities of color are vastly more likely to believe climate change is an urgent issue that should be immediately addressed by our elected leaders.

Utility companies need to stop using Latinos and other communities of color as pawns in their power grab. We can speak for ourselves, and the Public Utilities Commission should listen to what we are saying.

Arturo Carmona is executive director of Presente.org, the nation’s largest online Latino organizing group.

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