Is the California Coalition Fighting Subsidies For Rooftop Solar a Fake Grassroots Group?

In the fight over California’s rooftop solar policy, a coalition that claims to represent low-income, senior and environmental leaders is running ads warning about a cost shift that forces consumers to subsidize solar for people who live in mansions.

This message, by Affordable Clean Energy for All, is trying to influence the debate as California regulators consider rules that would sharply reduce the financial benefits of owning rooftop systems.

But Affordable Clean Energy for All is not a grassroots movement. It is a public relations campaign sponsored by big utility companies that stand to benefit from policies that hurt rooftop solar. Many of the 100-plus groups that make up the coalition have received charitable donations or other financial support from the utilities. Few of them wanted to talk about the campaign when contacted by Inside Climate News.

The utilities’ campaign is using what watchdog groups say is a familiar playbook from across the country, with community groups providing a relatable face for advocacy messages that align with those of the utilities. If the result is a policy that hurts rooftop solar, that could be a big setback for California’s push to get to net-zero emissions, an effort that is counting on a continued expansion of solar and other customer-owned energy systems.

But even as some environmentalists question the coalition’s motives, the group’s message resonates with some consumers because there is little dispute that upper- and middle-income households have gotten a disproportionately large share of solar subsidies.

Nonetheless, many community groups say inequities can be addressed in a way that accelerates building rooftop solar and energy storage, with an emphasis on helping people that struggle the most to pay utility bills and are more likely than others to feel the effects of a changing climate.

It is “poppycock” for the utilities to claim to be the ones standing up for equity, said the Rev. Ambrose Carroll, a pastor of an Oakland church and executive director of Green the Church, a nonprofit that works with Black churches on environmental issues.

“It is very disingenuous and it is a move…

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