As a pastor devoted to righteous social change, I am skeptical when powerful special interests claim that their view of public policy aligns with the best interests of the poor and working class. I’ve heard all this before. Politicians and pundits argued passionately that public policies such as redlining and mass confinement were only meant to stabilize the housing market and improve public safety. Fortunately, our society now sees that type of hypocrisy for what it is.
In response, powerful special interests have changed their terminology as well and maintain high standards of accountability. They have started using idioms like equality, social justice and equal results. But often this rhetoric is nothing more than a fancy public relations spin as the economically and politically powerful continue to pursue policies that are not really in the interest of equal outcomes.
I lead a faith-based movement called Green the Church. We advocate for public policies that promote environmental sustainability by giving our communities access to clean technologies. Our mission is to fulfill our moral obligation to reduce the carbon footprint of the world. One way we do this is by helping to facilitate the installation of rooftop solar panels on churches and homes across the country. This green advancement not only meets the ethical imperative of environmental management, but also brings a more basic human reward—reducing the family’s monthly electricity bills.
In California, the main public policy promoting the development of on-site or rooftop solar is called Net Energy Metering (NEM). The policy mandates that large utility companies pay homes, churches, schools and small businesses fair compensation for the excess energy their panels return to the grid. This is a policy that is working as the disparities in the rear roof are being leveled. Today about 50% of rooftop solar systems are being installed on the roofs of the middle class and working poor.
Last month the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a proposed decision on the new NEM rules. And as rooftop solar becomes more affordable for working families, the CPUC’s decision promises to abruptly cut off working families’ access to technology. The new rules will levy the highest tariff in the country for new rooftop solar consumers. According to an analysis by the California Solar and Storage Association, under the proposed NEM regulations, California’s average on-site solar users would be given PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E. This would essentially destroy the solar market as households no longer have There will be no economic incentive to go green.
If that’s not bad enough, the CPUC is using the equity argument of so-called “cost variation” to justify its decision. They claim that when families, churches, schools and small businesses commit to on-site rooftop solar, utilities should charge more on their monthly electricity bills than others. They are not being honest. The truth is that solar panels generate more efficient local energy, help decarbonize the grid, prevent blackouts and significantly reduce people’s monthly utility bills. CPUC’s current plan isn’t a solution to changes in cost—it’s a move away from consumers and toward larger utilities.
Therefore, I do not believe that it is in the best interest of equity when the big utilities or their allies say that paying everyone, especially working families, the highest rooftop solar fees in the country. Just as redlining the mortgage industry’s claim that the housing market stabilizes or the private prison industry’s claim that mass incarceration makes society safer, the big utilities are not socially irresponsible. Worse, they are exploiting the communities they claim to be helping by arguing that these fees are equivalent when they are clearly profit-making. If frontline communities were really their concern, then the big utilities and their allies at the CPUC would be promoting clean and affordable local electricity, not destroying the rule that mandates on-site and rooftop solar for working communities. makes it more affordable.
Rev. Ambrose Carroll Sr. is the founder and executive director of Green the Church and co-founder of the Coalition for Environmental Equality and Economics (CEEE).