Former CA utilities commissioner exposes “regulatory capture” of agency Explosive ABC10 exclusive report slams CPUC for crippling state’s rooftop solar industry amidst climate crisis

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A powerful segment by newscaster Alex Bell for ABC10 Sacramento on June 18 exposed the climate solution-crippling influence that the state’s largest utilities have over the California Public Utilities Commission.

In an interview with ABC10, Loretta Lynch, President of the CPUC from 2000 to 2002, blew the whistle on undue influence that the state’s muliti-billion dollar utilities exert over state regulators. “I think the regulator has become the regulated, ” she told ABC10 in an exclusive interview.  “They are just too cozy with PG&E and when PG&E says jump, instead of asking why, they say how high.”

It is an assertion that is echoed by environmental, solar and consumer advocates across the state, who say that California’s Public Utilities Commission has been captured by the very industry it is meant to regulate.

In April 2023, the CPUC cut the rates 75% for the solar energy that consumers send into the grid. This has resulted in an 80% reduction in rooftop solar installations, and caused the industry to lose 17,000 jobs, or nearly a quarter of the solar workforce in the state. 

These solar cuts are taking place as California struggles to meet the urgent climate goals passed by the legislature, and remains the largest emitter of carbon emissions in the United States, with 39% of its electricity generated by burning natural gas.

Bernadette Del Chiaro, Executive Director of the California Solar and Storage Association, discussed the effect on her industry. “Consumers predictably stopped going solar. Our market is down 60-80%.

It’s very un-California, it’s hard to even recognize California when it comes to solar energy policy.”

The CPUC claimed it did this because paying home and business owners for solar has caused the rates to increase for those who can’t afford solar. But this argument flies in the face of the reality that even though there are nearly 2 million rooftop solar installations in California, demand for electricity has increased, while rates for everyone continue to skyrocket. 

Moreover, environmentalists point out that in gutting rooftop solar incentives, the CPUC did not take into account the many benefits of solar, notably that it is one of the best, and only, way to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Indeed, the bogus argument that solar costs more has been made for decades by fossil fuel companies and their lobbyists. If the CPUC was only interested in the lowest cost to ratepayers, they would gut all renewable programs and incentivize the burning of asthma-causing coal to generate electricity. Which, of course, would be absurd. 

As former CPUC Commissioner Lynch explained to ABC10. “There are lots of benefits that used to be counted when we looked at the costs and benefits of solar and the PUC completely changed that calculation, so much so that they slashed the payments that people who have solar on their rooftops get for solar when they sell back to the system. And that made it economically not feasible for a lot of businesses and California families.” 

Lynch believes that the power to reform the CPUC lies with Governor Gavin Newsom, who appoints the five commissioners.

“We need to put solar wherever it’s possible…. let’s change out the people who are standing in the way of really reaching our climate goals.” 

Watch the full segment on ABC10’s To The Point with Alex Bell, here.

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Tim Ryan

Tim Ryan is the Managing Editor of the Sonoma Independent and the COO of the Sonoma Independent's parent organization, Progressive Source Communications. He writes stories on climate, elections, housing, and local news.

Tim joined Progressive Source Communications in early 2019 as an outreach coordinator working on the Candidates Video Debate project. He has worked on many of Progressive Source’s projects, including managing marketing for the Inform Your Vote project, which covered the New York City Mayoral election of 2021. Currently, in addition to day to day operations, he often serves as an account or project manager for Progressive Source projects, such as the recent Portola Wood Stove Changeout Campaign and the California Air Resources Board, Fundamentals of Air Quality Series.

In 2017, he graduated with honors from Cal Poly Humboldt, earning a bachelor’s degree in sociocultural anthropology with a minor in psychology. As an undergraduate, he received institutional approval and grant funding to conduct ethnographic research on the 2016 presidential election, later presenting this research at symposia. He was a founding member of the Humboldt County Ethnographic Archive, which is now permanently housed on campus.

Before joining Progressive Source, Tim worked in social services for the county Department of Health and Human Services in Humboldt County, CA. He was also an assistant field manager for the local environmental political action committee, Sonoma County Conservation Action. He is passionate about social equity, labor, and environmental issues.

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