Brown … out?

California state senators are weighing whether to roll back conservation and affordable-energy reforms passed in the wake of last decade's energy crisis.

Assembly Bill 327 flew through the assembly on a 66-4 floor vote and unanimously passed the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee. It's currently before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Investor-owned utilities like PG&E heartily support the proposed law, because it empowers the Public Utilities Commission to enact utility-friendly “rate reform” measures—like fixed fees for infrastructure-maintenance costs—regardless of a ratepayer's income or use of renewable-energy measures, like rooftop solar panels.

PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles pointed out that shareholder profits for investor-owned utilities are not tied to ratepayer revenues. Investors are guaranteed a 12-percent rate of return, based on capital asset valuation. But if the bill passes, investor-owned utilities would likely urge the PUC to exercise its authority to pass the costs of utility-scale solar projects and maintaining the power grid to ratepayers. The utilities could also cash in on taxpayer subsidies offered through the California Solar Initiative.

Solar-industry stakeholders will have to wait and see if A.B. 327 lands on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk later this summer, before they can hammer out revisions to a state policy that compensates solar users who put energy back into the grid.