California is sued over its rule on solar power installers.

Source: By Ivan Penn, New York Times • Posted: Wednesday, September 22, 2021

A house in Los Angeles outfitted with rooftop solar panels.
Philip Cheung for 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 new restrictions on who can install batteries on solar units.

In the lawsuit, which was filed on 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.”

Ms. 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 prevent solar contractors from installing batteries in an attempt to promote the safe installation of equipment involving power, requiring some workers to be certified electricians. Utility companies are exempt from the requirement, which takes effect Nov. 1.

Michael Jamnetski, the board’s chief of legislation, acknowledged Tuesday that the actions might have had unintended consequences. But he said the board aimed to help contractors continue their work. “There was no market disruption intended,” he said.

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 a 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 percent of electricity production nationwide. In a report this month, the Energy Department said that solar power could help achieve President Biden’s carbon-reduction goals, but that the nation would need as much as 45 percent of its electricity from the sun.

In California, rooftop panels make up about 50 percent of the state’s solar market, and the installers are almost three-quarters of the industry’s work force, Ms. 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 percent 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, Ms. 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.