Anyone who’s been following my posts of late will know that I have energy on the brain, but with good reason. There’s been a lot of activity in the political sphere around climate change. Last week, President Obama announced a bold initiative to move the country toward a more sustainable energy future—even if it means undercutting Congress with executive actions. But as I was writing up my review of his proposal, another story came across the wire that caught my attention.
A new survey recently commissioned by the William C. Velasquez Institute (WCVI) and supported by Californians Against Utilities Stopping Solar Energy (CAUSE) reveals some striking trends in key voting demographics in California and nationwide. According to the survey, 80 percent of Latino voters in Southern California believe “state legislators should make it a high priority to increase the amount of rooftop solar energy in California.” Digging deeper, the study found that 70 percent of Latinos support net energy metering. (In case you haven’t been reading my posts, net energy metering is a successful policy in California and 42 other states that credits consumers with rooftop solar for the excess energy they deliver back to the grid.)
I probably don’t need to tell you that Latinos represent the fastest growing demographic in our state and national electorate. So these numbers should strike fear into the heart of any state legislator or other elected official who has a history of opposing renewables, solar energy, and initiatives like net metering. And if that’s not enough to give them a scare, these stats from the WCVI press release should do the trick:
• 88 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to re-elect a legislator who “voted for stronger clean air standards to reduce pollution.”
• Two-thirds of those polled are less likely to re-elect a legislator who “took large campaign contributions from monopoly utility companies and voted their way and against the interests of working families and the environment,”
Speaking to the poll results, Antonio Gonzalez of the WCVI said: “The Latino community now realizes that jobs and public health go hand in hand with the clean economy, and rooftop solar is leading the way. ... Latinos will hold their elected officials accountable if they are too cozy with groups like the investor-owned utilities that rely on fossil fuels for energy generation.”
This poll comes at a time when California’s investor-owned utilities (IOUs)—Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), and Southern California Edison (SCE)—are actively lobbying to curtail rooftop solar installations and stop net metering. And it doesn’t take a slide rule or a TI graphing calculator to figure out why Big Energy is making this push now.
According to a July 2012 California Solar Initiative report from the California Public Utilities Commission, two-thirds of California’s home solar installations are now being installed in low- and median-income neighborhoods. This represents a significant threat to the IOUs’ bottom lines, and like a lot of oversized corporations, they will protect their profit margins at all costs, even if it means destroying our natural environment, putting public health at risk, and stalling a growing industry that continues to create thousands of new jobs for Californians—many of them right here in Santa Clara County.
Last week I attended a forum on the green economy hosted by Working Partnerships USA, a local labor-affiliated think tank. (Full disclosure: I was once on the WPUSA payroll.) The forum featured elected officials, labor leaders, renewable energy employers, and the general public engaged in a lively discussion about how to create “equity” in the new energy industry. In other words: How do we make the green economy a healthy environment for working people?
At one point, it was noted that California’s IOUs invested $1.5 billion in renewable energy projects over the past year. It strikes me that most of that money was for large-scale projects that the IOUs can charge ratepayers to complete. For example, SDG&E is spending $1.9 billion to build a transmission line, supposedly to move renewable electricity from Imperial County to San Diego. SDG&E isn’t complaining about these costs because it will likely earn $1.6 billion from the line. Rooftop solar, on the other hand, helps avoid these costs. Utilities don’t like rooftop solar purely because they don’t make money off it.
So while $1.5 invested in renewables sounds like great news if taken out of context, there’s more to it. My mind also pivoted instantly to the $1.2 billion that SCE has charged ratepayers over the past 18 months to prop up the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) after a radiation leak in January 2012 forced the plant to shut down. Considering the $1.5 billion for renewables and the $1.2 billion for a dysfunctional, dangerous nuclear plant side-by-side will give you a good idea of how much the IOUs actually care about the future of our environment—and our economy.
Peter Allen is a communications consultant, nonprofit board president, Democratic activist, and a proud native of San Jose.