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Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

New California solar battery project electrician licensing rule passed illegally, contractors claim

The California Contractors State License Board's new rule prevents solar contractors from installing or maintaining solar battery storage systems, and requires electricians to do the specialized work instead.

SAN DIEGO (CN) — A solar energy group is taking California’s contractor licensing board to court for passing what they claim was an “underground regulation” that prevents them from installing or maintaining battery storage systems, including ones they were previously allowed to install themselves.   

The California Solar & Storage Association claims the rule — passed by the state’s Contractors State License Board earlier in 2024 — will not only have devastating and disastrous effects on small businesses, contractors themselves, the solar power industry and consumers, but also the state’s own plans to grow it’s renewable energy utilities and tackle climate change.

The rule, “slams the brakes on the deployment of solar and battery storage projects throughout California at exactly the time when the state and consumers need them the most,” they write in their complaint filed in San Diego Superior Court on Friday.

The rule prohibits solar contractors from installing solar battery storage equipment or maintaining that equipment, even though they were previously allowed to do so with their own license from the board. 

The association claims the board passed the rule “underground," without proper assessment of the rule’s economic impact, especially on small businesses, under rulemaking requirements and procedures in violation of California’s Administrative Procedure Act, and without a proper analysis of the environmental impacts of the project as required by the California Environmental Quality Act.  

The new rule also requires certified licensed electricians be instead allowed to do the jobs that solar contractors were previously allowed to do since the state created the license in 1982. 

The contractors says that doesn’t just put 481 previously licensed solar contractors with specialized knowledge of the complexities of solar utilities out of a job, but it will also force consumers to hire more inexperienced — and more expensive — electricians. 

The association claims that means people will be less motivated to install batteries or solar power on their homes, which will ultimately force the state to fall back on carbon-based fossil fuels that will increase greenhouse gas emissions.    

In their complaint, the association points out that battery storage is an essential part of the return on investment for people installing solar panels, especially since the California Public Utilities Commission made recent changes to the state’s net energy metering program.

The commission says the changes will encourage people to use electricity when it’s most beneficial for grid reliability, while critics claim it will slash what rooftop solar owners get from sharing their excess energy by 75% to 80%, making solar less financially beneficial. 

The association is asking the court to rule that the board’s new rule is invalid and an “underground regulation.” They’re also asking the court to grant them future relief.  

"The CSLB adopted the rule at the urging of PG&E and other utilities who see rooftop solar as business competition. But the board violated the law when it refused to consider evidence of harm to solar contractors, consumers, and workers, not to mention the state’s clean energy goals, and when it rejected common-sense modifications to lessen those harms. The coalition of consumer rights and solar organizations filed this lawsuit to ensure that solar plus storage continues to be a viable energy solution for residents and businesses in California," wrote Heather M. Minner, an attorney for the California Solar & Storage Association.

The Contractors State License Board declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

Categories / Energy, Environment, Regional

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