THE BLOG
08/21/2013 11:01 am ET | Updated Oct 21, 2013

Latino Politicians Saying 'Si Se Puede' to Higher Energy Bills, Less Solar Power

That politicians call themselves "Latino" or say "Si Se Puede!" at immigration rallies doesn't automatically mean that said politicians are pro-Latino.

Consider California Assemblyman Henry Perea, the sponsor of AB 327, which, if passed, will fundamentally alter how -- and how much -- Latinos and all Californians will pay on their energy bills. Given his Latino-heavy Fresno district, Perea, who ran for Assembly as a pro-union progressive -- a man of the people -- seems a natural to lead on solar energy and other initiatives that both lower energy bills and reduce climate-disruption carbon emissions.

But as the sponsor of AB 327, Perea is actually leading the charge on doing the opposite -- restructuring rates to favor Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric. AB 327, which was basically written by lobbyists for Big Energy, seeks to lower the amount high-end users pay for kilowatt electricity by increasing the amount the majority of us pay.

Perea and the big energy companies want to add a fixed charge on all customers so that the energy companies can make even more money. That means that, before a customer turns on their lights everyday, they will be paying a flat rate of $10 a month. A fixed charge would be a determent to promoting clean energy solutions like rooftop solar and weatherization. The cost to consumers? A billion dollars. This billion-dollar boondoggle will discourage consumers from using clean technology and is simply bad news for the Latino community Perea and the Latino caucus claim to represent.

Rooftop solar is powering middle-class families and helping them save money on their energy bills. Two-thirds of new solar installations are happening in middle or low-income neighborhoods. Not only that, but 70 percent of California Latino voters support the current net metering law that allows owners of rooftop solar panels to receive credit for excess energy they generate.

Rooftop solar helps clean our air by reducing the need for dirty natural gas plants. According to American Lung Association, 7 of the 10 cities in the US with the dirtiest air are in California. Often communities of color are the ones that are affected the most by air pollution.

But the big utilities don't see it this way. In fact, a major reason our energy bills may (again) skyrocket if AB 327 passes comes down to money: over the last two political cycles Perea and other members of the Latino Caucus and their controlled PACS have taken millions in political contributions from the big utilities.

Though he will deny it while touting his Latino credentials, Henry Perea's sponsorship of the anti-consumer, anti-Latino AB 327 legislation has everything to do with the tens of thousands of dollars he has taken in campaign contributions from the electric utilities. Is this what Latino and others voters elected Perea for? No. Our community voted for leaders, not for followers of Big Energy.

But what about the other Latino legislators in Sacramento? To date, we have seen very little to no action from members of the Latino Legislative Caucus on AB 327. They're either not paying attention or worse, paralyzed at having to confront the utility lobby. Either course is unacceptable. The leader of the Latino Caucus, State Senator Ricardo Lara, and State Senator Kevin De Leon, the Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Energy Efficiency, need to step up for the working families the caucus represents. They need to rally other Latino caucus members and either kill or radically amend AB 327 in a way that is friendly to both consumer and public health interests.

That's exactly what we're asking at the SaveRooftopSolar.com online petition we launched this week. The current silence and a failure to act will condemn Latino and most energy consumers in California to the endless demands of greedy, ruthless polluters for higher and higher profits. That's why we must demand more than "Si Se Puede"s and other slogans from our elected officials.

Arturo Carmona is the Executive Director of Presente.org