After resigning for health reasons, a member of the California Public Utilities Commission has warned of intense pressure by utilities to protect against the incursion of rooftop solar energy.
Commissioner Mark Ferron announced last week that he could no longer perform his duties as commissioner after two years of treatment for prostate cancer. In a jocular parting report, he praised California for its leading role on energy and climate policy, while warning that its utilities “would still dearly like to strangle rooftop solar if they could.”
By order of the state Legislature (Assembly Bill 327), the commission is poised to overhaul how much customers can be rewarded for generating their own solar electricity. Ferron, a former executive at Deutsche Bank and Salomon Brothers, warned that zealous legislators with little experience in energy matters have handed the commission “a poisoned chalice.”
“The commission will come under intense pressure to use this authority to protect the interests of the utilities over those of consumers and potential self-generators” of solar electricity, he wrote, “all in the name of addressing exaggerated concerns about grid stability, cost and fairness.”
“You — my fellow commissioners — all must be bold and forthright in defending and strengthening our state’s commitment to clean and distributed energy,” he stated.
Industry analysts and advisers, including the investor-owned utilities association Edison Electric Institute, have issued public warnings of a disruptive threat to existing utility business models by the accelerating adoption of rooftop solar, and other “distributed generation” of electricity by customers.
Ferron said California is approaching an “inflection point” of business and policy opportunities with the convergence of new technologies, changing economics and urgent climate change concerns, while wondering “whether some top managers at our utilities have the ability or the will to understand and control the far-flung and complex organizations they oversee.”
Ferron’s departure leaves one vacancy on the five-seat, governor-appointed commission.
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