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California Is Sued Over Its Rule on Solar Power Installers

California’s solar power sector has sued the state over a new requirement mandating that installers are ‘certified electricians’

A house in Los Angeles outfitted with rooftop solar panels on Aug. 24, 2021. Fearing that growth in California’s solar power sector could grind to a halt, the association representing the industry has filed a lawsuit against the state over a new requirement that installers be “certified electricians.” (Philip Cheung/The New York Times)

By Ivan Penn, The New York Times

Fearing that growth in California’s solar power sector could grind to a halt, the association representing the industry has sued the state over a new requirement that installers be “certified electricians.”

In the lawsuit, which was filed Friday, the California Solar and Storage Association asked the Superior Court of California in San Francisco to overturn the rule changes and allow the current training standards to remain in place for those who install increasingly popular solar panels and battery systems.

“This is devastating to California’s solar industry and the state’s ability to build a clean energy future,” Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the association, said in an interview. “What they’re saying is this stuff is so dangerous that only certified electricians can do it. We don’t have any evidence, a shred of evidence, that there’s a problem.”

Del Chiaro said the new rules would affect hundreds of solar companies in the state and 35,000 workers. And with electricians already in high demand for construction projects and other services, finding enough people who meet the requirement, she said, will make it nearly impossible for solar and battery companies to deliver their products.

In two rule changes in July, the Contractors State License Board voted to require workers who install solar panels and batteries to be certified electricians to ensure the safe installation of equipment involving power. Utility companies are exempt from the requirement, which takes effect Nov. 1.

Joyia Emard, a spokesperson for the licensing board, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

California by far leads the nation in solar installations, driven in part by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s push for solar panels to be on 1 million homes — a goal the state reached in December 2019 — and by efforts to replace fossil fuel power plants with large-scale solar farms and other clean energy resources to address the impact of climate change.

Solar panels now sit atop roofs, desert sands and agricultural fields from coast to coast, though the power source provides less than 4% of electricity production nationwide. In a report this month, the Energy Department said that solar power could help achieve President Joe Biden’s carbon-reduction goals, but that the nation would need as much as 45% of its electricity from the sun.

In California, rooftop panels make up about 50% of the state’s solar market, and the installers are almost three-quarters of the industry’s workforce, Del Chiaro said.

Rooftop solar and batteries have become increasingly popular as extreme weather events related to climate change, including wildfires and brutally high temperatures, have led to blackouts and power shut-offs.

The rooftop solar industry is also fighting with utility companies in California over the compensation that consumers receive for the electricity their systems provide to the electric grid. Utilities want to add more fees while cutting the credit that consumers receive, known as net metering, by as much as 80% from the current dollar-for-dollar benefit.

The net metering issue is under review by the California Public Utilities Commission.

With the license board rule change, Del Chiaro said California appeared to be moving in the opposite direction of the state and nation’s climate objectives.

“It is entirely unjustified,” she said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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