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Guest Opinion | Tina Fredericks, Pasadena Unified School District Board Member: Making Solar Energy More Expensive for Schools Takes Money Away from Students

Published on Monday, October 9, 2023 | 1:17 pm

These days, California schools have to stretch our budgets in order to make ends meet and deliver the education our students deserve. Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) is no exception.

PUSD, serving nearly 15,000 students, has another responsibility – being a leading voice addressing the climate emergency that threatens the health, safety, and wellbeing of the students and families in our community. To that end, PUSD has already installed solar panels in half of our schools and intends to build more.

PUSD is committed to being leaders in the fight against climate emergency. In December 2022, our Board of Education passed a resolution Recognition of Global Climate Emergency and Urgency to Take Local Action to Source 100% Carbon Free Energy by 2030. Going solar is a major component of our clean energy strategy. It will be impossible for our school district to reach our carbon-free goal without a healthy investment in solar.

This opportunity to save on energy translates into several million dollars in savings annually. With the ongoing budget cuts, millions in savings means that the District can invest more into classroom resources and pay our staff the raises they deserve.

Unfortunately, California’s energy regulators seem headed in the wrong direction. Right now, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is considering changes that would essentially eliminate the incentive to install rooftop solar in California schools. The changes would also apply to apartment buildings, farms, and other types of commercial properties.

Currently, these solar consumers are able to make their solar investment more affordable by selling the energy they produce but do not use back to the power grid at a fair value. The program is called Net Energy Metering (NEM), and it is responsible for making California the nation’s solar leader.

Last December, the CPUC drastically reduced the value of solar credits for single-family homes under the NEM program. However, the value of solar credits for schools, farms and apartments remained unaltered at the time. Schools, farms, and apartment buildings, which usually have multiple electric meters, were able to continue to be able to take advantage of the NEM program by combining the credits across all of their meters.

Now, however, the CPUC is coming after multimeter properties proposing drastic changes that would go even further than last year’s changes to solar credits for single-family homes.

The proposal under consideration at the CPUC would prohibit mutli-meter properties, like schools, from consuming the solar energy they produce themselves. Instead, schools, farms, and apartment complexes would be forced to transmit all of their solar energy to the utility. This would force schools to buy back solar energy, at the going retail rate, from the utility companies that schools produced in the first place. As a result of this new proposal, the utility companies would cement their role as for-profit middlemen. And, the process of generating solar energy would become a financial burden rather than a savings.

A few weeks ago, I was joined by hundreds of educators from around the state asking the CPUC to reject this proposal. We called on them to keep solar as a viable cost-saving and clean energy option for schools.

I am one of many voices speaking on behalf of students in one school district in California, which has over one thousand K-12 school districts, serving 6 million students and their families. As school board trustees we are the only elected office who represent children – those who cannot yet vote. The CPUC has the responsibility to serve the public good, not private for-profit interests.

The stakes for our students – both for their education and their planet – are too high to take anything for granted. The public who spoke at the recent CPUC meeting included educators, concerned citizens, renters, farm owners, environmental activists, and solar business owners. Even though these factions seemingly have different interests, they were unified that this proposal is a bad idea both economically and environmentally.

To the Commissioners: Do the Right Thing. Listen to what all public comments unanimously are saying. Pave the way for California’s clean energy progress. Our children’s chance of a livable future is in your hands.

Tina Fredericks is a former high school math teacher, and computer engineer, living in East Pasadena with her husband and two daughters. She is a member of the PUSD Board of Education, but is speaking solely as an individual member of the Board.

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