Protestors outside San Luis Obispo's PG&E offices on Dec. 1, 2022. Credit: Leila Touati | Mustang News Credit: Leila Touati | Courtesy

On Dec. 2, 2022, Save California Solar rallied in 10 Californian cities simultaneously. Protesters in San Luis Obispo gathered on Higuera Street in front of the PG&E offices. 

At 11 a.m., approximately 50 solar customers, climate activists and green energy workers brought signs to rally for better net energy metering (NEM), a state policy that makes distributed, or rooftop solar, affordable for all customers. Through net energy metering, solar customers are credited for the extra energy they create.

However, on Nov. 10, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a proposal for NEM-3, a new solar tariff that aims to incentivize consumers to purchase solar with battery storage and go on an electricity rate, saving the extra solar energy acquired throughout the day to be used for sundown or possible power outage. 

According to the California Solar & Storage Association (CALSSA), the proposed NEM-3 tax would cut energy credits by 75%, between about $0.05 to $0.08 per kilowatt, making solar unaffordable for most consumers and create a loss of green jobs in the solar industry.

Three protesters involved in solar spoke at the rally — including Mark Miller, founder and owner of A.M. Solar, Geoff Auslen, a solar customer and Eric Veium, chair of the SLO Climate Coalition.

“The proposal, the solar cliff, is still too extreme,” Veium said. “We need a clear, sustainable path forward to continue to grow our customer and rooftop solar industry, to protect solar jobs, and to meet California’s clean energy goals.”

While existing solar customers don’t face a current solar tax, if the proposed NEM-3 is accepted, then any new solar consumers will face a drawback of credits for rooftop solar energy.

“I have solar on my house, battery back-up on my house, solar on my business and I have solar on my rental property,” Auslen said. “We just beat the last one [proposed tariff] a few months ago and they’re trying to charge us about $100 a month just by having solar.”

That same day at 5 p.m., an urgent roundtable over Zoom was hosted by Powur CEO Jonathan Budd and CALSSA Executive Director Bernadette Del Chiarro. Approximately 200 attendees discussed how to take action before the proposed tariff was discussed in the CPUC’s voting meeting on Dec. 15.

“Whoever cares about a clean energy future, distributed energy, the solar economy, and the people getting to benefit in the wealth of energy [and] not ceding that over to a utility — that’s what we’re fighting for here. It’s all on the line, it truly is,” Budd said.

Throughout December, solar organizations including Save California Solar and CALSSA shared their campaigns of building a clean future all over California and to stop NEM-3 from being accepted into policy.

“There’s a saying in organizing circles that you’d be surprised what a small group of committed people can do to change the world, and I have seen this time and again with this one issue; there is no other energy issue that puts the power of the people against the power of an incredibly well-resourced special interest but with collective action like this, we can win,” Del Chiarro said.