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How an Environmental Group Aligned with Monopoly Utilities to Squash Rooftop Solar

Comic strip illustrating the absurdity of trying to kill solar adoption during the climate crisis

California’s legislative session has closed for 2021 and elected officials are beginning to discuss 2022 legislative priorities, undoubtedly strategizing about which groups will likely support or oppose their bills. As many California elected officials ran on progressive platforms, getting buy-in from environmental groups will be a big priority for many Democratic lawmakers.

One group that’s getting a lot of attention from climate activists is the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has a mission to “safeguard the earth—its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends and has always been traditionally looked at as an environmental organization.” Historically, NRDC has been highly respected and considered a reputable climate organization, with taglines like “Earth’s best defense” and with big wins like preserving critical species and securing broad legal protections for wildlife and marine protected areas. In 2010, NRDC helped to craft the first ever national ocean policy, which improves coordination among states and created a National Ocean Policy. Internationally, NRDC worked with partners to develop a first-of-its-kind United Nations agreement that requires the regulation of bottom trawling. NRDC has done some great work in the climate space. 

NRDC was established as a nonprofit organization 51 years ago and its support or opposition is highly valued, however, its seniority and past wins have allowed the organization to support anti-climate, pro-utility legislation while still being regarded by many as a reputable environmental group, derailing legislation and climate policies. Why would an organization dedicated to protecting the earth support anti-climate policies? While it’s not well known, NRDC has a history of siding with the investor-owned utilities to advance a fossil fuel agenda, although more individuals and organizations are taking notice as of late. 

After John Bryson co-founded NRDC, he served as a commissioner for the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and eventually went on to become the CEO of Edison International, which founded the Edison International Institute (EII). EII is a utility-backed organization, which has produced studies biased against rooftop solar and led the attacks on the industry over the years. Taking a deeper look into NRDC’s history, Ralph Cavanagh, a senior lawyer from NRDC, set up the “California Collaborative Process” in 1989, which according to the San Francisco Bay Guardian, enabled key environmentalists to "meet behind closed doors with top executives from private utilities to smooth over their differences and hammer out energy-efficiency programs.” 

NRDC has issued at least four joint statements with Edison Electric Institute since 2002 regarding all manner of clean energy policy, which NRDC makes no effort to hide. In 2014, NRDC made a deal with the utility industry in which the utilities would stop fighting the existence of energy efficiency and rooftop solar in exchange for NRDC's support for designing these programs so the utilities can maintain their profit margins. Beyond joint statements from NRDC and utility groups, NRDC has also worked with the utilities to draft anti-climate policies. For example, in 2016, NRDC and the utilities jointly filed for changes to the state’s net energy metering program, the rooftop solar agreement that has helped over one million California families, schools, businesses, cities and organizations to go solar. In 2019, as policymakers were debating whether or not Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) should be held liable for the fires PG&E caused, the LA Times reported NRDC’s ‘Cavanagh thinks state legislators should change the law so that PG&E and other utilities aren’t held liable for fires sparked by their infrastructure unless they’re found to be negligent. “Our utility liability rules are unworkable. They menace every utility in California, and they need to be fixed,” he said. “This is not just about PG&E, and it’s a mistake to treat it as such.”’

Fast forward to this year when we watched NRDC undermine rooftop solar by supporting the “kill solar bill” in California, Assembly Bill 1139, and submitting an anti-solar proposal for the state’s net energy metering program, which will determine the future rooftop solar agreement in California. Beyond that, NRDC has made attempts to derail the net energy metering proceeding by suggesting major changes to the tool that determines how the CPUC values rooftop solar.  Further, the lawyer representing NRDC in the net energy metering proceeding formerly represented PG&E for 15 years, and represented Pacific Gas Transmission Company, a subsidiary of PG&E, for two years.

Environmentalists and climate justice advocates are beyond frustrated with NRDC’s actions. Not only is NRDC selling out to monopoly utility companies supporting environmental racism and accelerating the climate crisis, which often impacts communities of concern first and worst, its actions are causing decision makers to cite “environmental groups support {insert anti-solar initiative}” when in reality, it’s just one so-called environmental group that has a long-standing track record supporting the investor-owned utility companies. NRDC prioritizing that relationship over advocating to keep a proven climate solution an option for California, is not only disappointing, it has major consequences for environmental justice and climate policies. 

When asked about the hypocrisy of NRDC’s disingenuous equity claims about rooftop solar, citing the Vibrant Energy study that shows rooftop solar reduces costs for all ratepayers, and pointing out that the top reasons electricity rates are increasing are because of infrastructure that investor-owned utilities get a guaranteed return on investment on and fire-related costs, NRDC did not address or refute our points and did not provide any facts to defend the organization’s stance. When we asked why over 100 climate and equity organizations opposed Assembly Bill 1139 yet NRDC was the only “environmental group” supporting it, an NRDC employee responded by insinuating that their organization understood the issue better than traditional environmental organizations, which weren’t aware of what exactly they were signing on to. That is not factual and is an insult to the organizations, now a broad, diverse coalition of more than 350 nonprofits, small businesses, labor unions, faith-based groups and other members, many of which meet on a monthly basis to save rooftop solar.

It is clear that NRDC works to push investor-owned utility agendas, therefore it is extremely dangerous for NRDC to continue being characterized as an environmental organization and utilized by decision makers to pass anti-climate legislation and policies during a climate emergency when we need to move away from fossil fuels and towards zero carbon. We urge legislators, CPUC commissioners and other elected officials to not mistake buy-in from NRDC as buy-in from environmental groups, because NRDC does not represent the vast majority of environmental groups nor do NRDC’s actions show it's truly trying to end climate injustices and the climate crisis. Please help us fight for a more just and livable future by spreading the word and by reaching out to NRDC, asking the organization to support rooftop solar as a solution to reduce climate racism and to slow the impacts of the climate crisis. To join us in protecting rooftop solar, please visit

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Empowering Oceanside: Nonprofits Harness Clean Energy to Reinvest in the Community and Combat Climate Injustices

About a year ago, Preserve Calavera, the Oceanside-based nonprofit organization that received $4.4 million for its Oceanside Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Fund, selected solar power projects to be among its first initiatives with the fund.

About a year ago, Preserve Calavera, the Oceanside-based nonprofit organization that received $4.4 million for its Oceanside Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Fund, selected solar power projects to be among its first initiatives with the fund. The target for its initial solar grants were nonprofits in Oceanside’s communities of concern that otherwise wouldn’t be going solar. 

With an April 2023 deadline to get secured under net energy metering, or NEM 2.0, the solar agreement with San Diego Gas & Electric before solar rules changed across California, Preserve Calavera hired Hammond Climate Solutions Foundation to manage the solar initiative. After outreach to several community organizations, Preserve Calavera recommended Brother Benno’s to be one of the grant recipients. Brother Benno’s is a 501(c)(3) dedicated to serving homeless neighbors, the working poor, and seniors in North San Diego County by offering essential meals, addressing basic needs, fostering community outreach, and supporting addiction recovery.

Hammond Climate Solutions Foundation managed a competitive bidding process for the solar projects, brought in BQuest Foundation, another philanthropic funder, oversaw the execution of the solar contracts and philanthropic solar agreements, in addition to reaching out to an established BQuest partner, Vista Community Clinic, to be a grant recipient. Vista Community Clinic, which first opened in 1972, set out to provide quality health care to anyone who walked through its doors. Today, nearly 50 years later, the clinics have helped redefine the community clinic model by pioneering innovative models of primary care delivery.

The first of the three solar projects, for Vista Community Clinic’s (North Horne Street location), completed this month. The other two projects, at Vista Community Clinic’s (Pier View Way location) and Brother Benno’s, should start within a couple of weeks. Combined, these projects are saving the nonprofits an estimated $2 million during the lifetime of the systems while reducing 2810  metric tons of CO2 contributing to the climate crisis. The three systems have an average payback period of 4.3 years. Additionally, these solar projects were installed by the Encinitas-based, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) 569 signatory contractor, Aloha Solar Power, supporting local green jobs and apprentices getting on-the-job training. These three projects are considered smaller solar projects that slip through the cracks with traditional solar financing. This leaves many nonprofits not being able to go solar, missing out on a variety of benefits. 

The solar projects will provide education to the community about clean energy, how it reduces climate injustices and the impacts of the climate crisis, which often impact communities of concern first and worst. 

These projects were made possible by a grant from the Oceanside Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Fund at San Diego Foundation on behalf of Preserve Calavera as well as a philanthropic solar bridge loan from the BQuest Foundation. 

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Celebrating a year of impactful climate action

The past year has been a testament to the undeniable urgency of addressing the climate crisis as extreme weather and flooding events, fires, drought, heatwaves and other climate emergencies are occurring worldwide.

The past year has been a testament to the undeniable urgency of addressing the climate crisis as extreme weather and flooding events, fires, drought, heatwaves and other climate emergencies are occurring worldwide. As California made decisions to side with the investor-owned utilities to make solar power less accessible and more expensive, the federal government made landmark investments in funding clean energy initiatives. Our team has been working tirelessly advocating for a just and livable future, which includes work behind the scenes working with Governor Newsom’s office, California Public Utility Commission staff and San Diego Community Power to provide feedback on and assist with advancing climate initiatives and programs.    

As we grapple with the wins and losses this year brought, the Hammond Climate Solutions Foundation team is proud to have helped create a more just and livable future. We are grateful for our clients, nonprofit partners and climate champions that we have the pleasure of working with throughout 2023. 

Climate Legislation 

California was able to make some progress on climate through statewide legislation this year and our team was proud to offer our support on a handful of bills, some of which did not pass or did pass and were vetoed by Governor Newsom. By far the biggest win was Senate Bill 253, the Climate Corporation Data Accountability Act, which now requires companies making $1 billion or more to disclose their annual greenhouse gas emissions, forcing an estimated 5,400 companies in the state including Walmart, Exxon and Apple, to provide transparency and hopefully turn that transparency into true climate action. 

Another climate win we were able to help support, along with our partner BQuest Foundation, was Senate Bill 355. The bill started as a bill to expand the eligibility requirements for the state’s Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing Program,and after meeting with the bill author’s office, our team was proud to have language added into the bill to encourage a loan guarantee to increase utilization of program funds. Although the details still need to be worked out through the California Public Utilities Commission, the added language means that property owners could access the rebate on the front end. 

As we celebrate these two huge wins in the legislature, we have also been actively campaigning to reverse language approved last year through Assembly Bill 205, a budget trailer bill that included a provision, which removed the current cap on utility taxes and mandates a utility tax on all ratepayers that has unlimited potential to grow. The bill was passed without any public discussion and would be the highest utility tax in the country in a state that already has the highest utility rates in the nation. Throughout this year, Hammond Climate Solutions Foundation and organization partners have submitted numerous letters to state legislators, Governor Newsom and the California Public Utilities Commission urging them to repeal the utility tax provision. We have also addressed this issue directly with legislators who have met with us in person. If this section of the bill is not repealed, then the changes will go into effect mid next year. 

Rooftop Solar 

Protecting and expanding rooftop solar has been one of Hammond Climate Solutions Foundation’s biggest policy priorities this year. Although the decision to cut rooftop solar benefits for homeowners in 2022 was a drastic decision and a huge step in the wrong direction, the investor-owned utilities and the California Public Utilities Commission took it a step further and began attacking solar for renters, farms and schools. In August the California Public Utilities Commission issued a proposed decision that would block renters, farms and schools from using their own solar energy. The proposal attempted to give the utilities full control over rooftop solar energy produced by any facility with multiple meters, meaning a school for example, would need to buy back their own solar energy from the utility at full price. Our team worked tirelessly to bring attention to this issue locally and statewide and submitted numerous comments. After delaying the vote on this decision numerous times, a revised proposed decision was released in November. The newly revised proposed decision allows tenants in multifamily buildings to use their solar energy in real time, but still blocks that right from property owners, schools and farms. This decision along with the cuts to rooftop solar benefits for homeowners made last year will make it harder for California to reach its clean energy goals, increase climate injustices, accelerate the climate crisis and ultimately shows how much power the investor owned utilities have.  

Although both decisions are upsetting, we are proud of the advocates statewide who spent numerous hours ensuring their voices were heard and were proud to contribute to San Diego being listed as one of the top cities with the most public comments on this issue. 

Local Climate Action 

While Hammond Climate Solutions Foundation has remained very engaged on statewide issues, our team has also stayed involved with local climate initiatives. Over the course of the year, we submitted numerous letters to the City of San Diego City Council and Mayor Todd Gloria on issues ranging from funding for the Climate Action Plan, building electrification, recommendations for budget prioritization and more. 

We also remain engaged with the County of San Diego as they develop their Regional Decarbonization Framework, providing feedback as they release information.  

We are proud to hold trusted relationships with local elected officials and be looked at as subject matter experts on issues like net energy metering and rooftop solar. This year, we were invited to participate in two elected officials’ environmental roundtables where we proposed ideas for future bills and policies and discussed our team’s priorities. 

We were also proud to help the Let’s Go! San Diego Coalition raise awareness on a proposed transit improvement measure, which has successfully passed the 10,0000 signature requirement to go on the 2024 ballot. 

Looking Forward to 2024

Our team is involved in numerous coalitions, serving in leadership roles and intend to continue our involvement with the San Diego Green New Deal Alliance, California Alliance for Community Energy, San Diego Community Power, San Diego Building Electrification Coalition and Grid Alternatives San Diego. In addition to continuing our climate advocacy and policy efforts, we are also working hard on our climate programs like the Solar Moonshot Program and our e-bike programs. 

Please connect with us on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and X (formerly Twitter, and to ensure you receive updates in the future, sign up for our newsletter.

We look forward to working with all of you in 2024 to create a more resilient, equitable and healthier future for all. 

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Villa Lakeshore Apartments in Lakeside, which BQuest provided a SOMAH bride loan for, allowing the property to install solar, which saves tenants $1,600 a year on utility bills

California bill could restructure traditional incentive programs

New bill could restructure traditional incentive programs in California

It is no secret that traditionally, clean energy infrastructure has primarily been accessible to wealthy homeowners in California. More than a million homes and businesses have rooftop solar, but the state’s environmental justice communities, which are in the most polluted areas, have been left out. In order to reach the state’s climate and clean energy goals, it is necessary to provide clean energy access to everyone and a big part of how we get there is programs. 

The Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) Program was created by California Assembly Bill (AB) 693 introduced by then Assemblymember Susan Eggman in 2016, which included the largest investment of its kind in the nation - $1 billion over the next decade from five of the state's gas and electric  investor-owned utility companies greenhouse gas cap-and-trade auction proceeds to subsidize solar panels on multifamily affordable housing across the state. For tenants, this means reduced utility bills, better housing security and job training opportunities. For housing complex owners, the solar reduces common area electricity costs, reducing overhead expenses. The program had a very successful launch, becoming fully subscribed within the first 24 hours of opening the program with more than 240 applications representing 74MW of solar capacity. However, after the successful launch, the program has experienced a significant decrease in applications in subsequent years, only receiving a total of 20 applications in 2022. 

A required third-party evaluation of the program identified a number of barriers to program participation. A major barrier cited from property owners was gap financing. SOMAH Program projects can be lengthy, and the current incentive structure requires the property owner to float the rebate amount, which can be thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes for a year. The program recognized this issue and rolled at progress payments, which paid a portion of the incentive for certain project milestones, but this simply is not enough for some property owners. Recognizing the need for gap financing in order for these projects to participate in the program, Hammond Climate Solutions Foundation and BQuest Foundation began working together to provide no interest bridge loans for SOMAH projects, providing much needed funds for projects that would have otherwise not moved forward. After funding a handful of projects, BQuest realized they could scale this opportunity a lot more quickly and reach many more property owners by creating a loan guarantee instead of financing these projects on a one by one basis. A loan guarantee would allow the property owner to access the rebate on the front end, backed by a loan guarantee from BQuest, without putting ratepayer money at risk and allowing BQuest to scale their impact. 

In February 2023, Senator Eggman introduced Senate Bill (SB) 355, which expanded SOMAH Program eligibility to include tribal housing, housing owned by public agencies and increased the income threshold among other things. At this point, Hammond Climate Solutions Foundation and BQuest had already been involved in numerous meetings with the SOMAH Program administrators, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) energy division staff, the Governor’s Office and were actively involved in the SOMAH proceeding at the CPUC and while support for this idea was given by all parties, implementing something like this had proven to be slightly more difficult. Since SB 355 addressed the lack of applications in the SOMAH program and expanded eligibility, we met with Senator Eggman’s staff and proposed an amendment to the bill to include language for a loan guarantee and not only was the language added with no opposition, it was signed by Governor Newsom on October 7! 

This is a huge win for California and an opportunity to prove that incentive programs structured in a way that provides the rebate on the front end can work and will eliminate barriers to participation. You can read the full bill text here.     

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