The other day, I had an epiphany about social, environmental, and climate justice. It went something like this: If Dr. King were alive today, what would he be telling this modern world—
so full of woe and turmoil—about how to solve the dual problems of climate change and environmental injustice? After all, we hear so many times that if we want good jobs, we will need to sacrifice a clean environment.
But unfortunately, that mantra has become a dire proclamation as our world faces the terrible consequences of global warming and our communities are disproportionately affected by the public health problems caused by dirty industries’ toxic emissions. That reality weighed on my heart for several days, when a powerful thought finally came to me – the dream lives on through all of us in our continued fight for what’s right.
The battle for that very worthwhile dream is happening in California right now. And it’s critical to our communities’ environmental and economic future. The good news is that new green technologies, like rooftop solar and battery storage, are providing our communities with the opportunity to both lower the cost of our monthly electric bills and reduce carbon emissions.
To be sure, this rooftop solar revolution is benefiting working families as much as anyone. According to statistics gathered by The Berkley Lab, in 2019 the number of rooftop solar installations for homes of families making less than $50,000 (18,000) was the same as for homes of families making more than $250,000 a year.
The bad news is that now that this technology is becoming more accessible to all communities, the big utility companies want to take it away from us. They have convinced the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) to add a huge tax on rooftop solar and to scale back the credit, called Net Metering, that rooftop solar consumers get for the extra electricity they produce and send back to the grid.
The big utilities and their political allies are running a public relations campaign aimed at convincing politicians and community groups that rooftop solar hurts poor folks. Their argument goes something like this: Every time a rich person puts solar panels on their roof, the utilities must charge poor people more to pay for the overall cost of managing the entire electric grid.
Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Well, it would be if it were true. But it’s not. The only thing that suffers when families, schools, businesses, and churches put solar on their roofs is the profits of utilities. These big utilities, such as PG&E, Edison, and SDG&E, are fighting a battle to preserve their big profits by trying to scare people of color into believing that a rooftop solar future is bad. Let me tell you the truth about the incredible potential of a rooftop solar-driven energy future.
Everyone who attends Sunday services knows about the benevolent fund. The fund is used to help out fellow brothers and sisters who need assistance with basics like food, clothes, rent, and — yes — paying their utility bills. In my church, paying a family’s utility bill is by far the most common use of the benevolent fund. But, my dream and the dream of many pastors across the nation is to address utility poverty by using something that our community has an abundance of—our churches’ rooftops.
As the executive director of Green the Church, a faith-based environmental project, I am currently working with several churches to help them put solar panels on their roofs and then sell that power to their congregations at a reduced price using something called Community Choice Aggregation (CCA). It’s a very exciting prospect. But, the dream of church-based CCAs relies on our churches continuing to get a fair NET Metering credit for the power we’re producing.
If the big utilities and their special-interest friends get their way, we can forget about achieving our dream of a cleaner and more affordable energy future. That’s because a fair NET Metering credit is essential to making that dream a reality. It’s simple: If the big utilities get their way at the CPUC, then once again it’s the rich and powerful that win and the people and our communities that lose.
The Rev. Dr. Ambrose Carroll is the lead pastor at Renewal Worship Center in Berkley California and the executive director of the national sustainable environmental organization, Green the Church.