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Solar energy supporters rally against AB 1139, they say the bill would rollback green energy

There is pushback against a proposed California bill some say could upset the solar industry and cost jobs, but the bill's author says it levels the playing field.

CHULA VISTA, Calif. — Climate supporters rallied against Assembly Bill 1139 with help from a 30-foot tall inflatable "Mr. Monopoly man" that had the words "utility profit grab" on it, in red. 

"The only winners of this bill are the utility companies and shareholders,” said Karinna Gonzalez of Hammond Climate Solutions, who said she spent her entire career making solar energy accessible to communities of concern.

With signs saying “Save solar” and “Keep green energy,” Maleeka Marsden of San Diego Green New Deal Alliance said false claims around equity continue to block clean energy progress.

"Utilities use dirty tactics to protect their profits and stop critical climate efforts, and this is one of the latest, most egregious attacks,” Marsden said.

The battle brewing is over AB 1139 that would change how much we pay for electricity and how much people save when they own solar.

"We must create communities that can rely on local, clean power not be at the mercy of fossil fuel monopoly utilities or dangerous and expensive back country transmission lines that ignite wildfires worsened by our climate emergency,” said Matthew Vasilakis of the Climate Action Campaign.

At the State Capitol, AB 1139 received 27 of the 41 votes needed to pass. In a statement, the bill's author Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez said:

"California’s distributed solar policy disproportionately burdens low-income Black and Brown communities by shifting the cost of energy usage from solar users to regular rate payers, despite these costs being our collective responsibility. This is unsustainable. AB 1139 would fix this regressive policy and save working class families money on their energy bills. Solar is still mandated on new homes and California is still on track to meet its 100% renewable energy goals. This bill simply ensures we are not forcing those without solar to subsidize rooftop solar for those who can already afford it."

Navy veteran and retired elementary school science teacher in City Heights Ricardo Castillo has solar panels and says AB 1139 would increase his bill.

"Why are they charging me for using the sun to create power for my house, so that I do not have to pay $300 a month?" Castillo said.

Local solar companies claim the bill will cut jobs.

Ian Lochore, the VP of Baker Electric Home Energy says it is a fourth-generation, family-owned San Diego contracted company with 15,000 local customers. He says the bill will impact employment opportunities across the region.

“There is no doubt that as a business, we will need to scale down our operation significantly and reduce the workforce,” Lochore said.

Sonja Robinson of the Protect Our Communities Foundation says it is fundamental to have full access to our natural resources.

"This bill AB 1139 will create economic hardship already in a pandemic with customers who have solar on the rooftop,” Robinson said.

Tom Summers, the Imperial Beach community advisor for San Diego Community Power said it is obvious that it is not in a utility company’s best interest to support renewable energy.

“It gores their ox and saving the planet, I know it's a lofty goal, but that is our deal,” Summers said.

AB 1139 will be heard again Thursday at the State Capitol and needs 41 votes by Friday to pass out of the State Assembly.

WATCH RELATED: Debate over changing rooftop solar rules in California (April 2021)