The Monopoly Strikes Back

When you've had a monopoly for 100 years, you're used to getting your way no matter what. That probably explains why one local monopoly utility is suing the entire County of Riverside because they took a stand for solar rights.

This is a great story about the people fighting a monopoly utility for the right to choose solar -- and the monopoly fighting back. In this case, the utility is the Imperial Irrigation District (IID), a municipal utility district that serves Imperial County and parts of Riverside and San Diego counties. 

The story is still unfolding...and the results could have a big impact on the rights of tens of thousands of Californians to generate and store their solar energy, and also sell their solar energy for a fair credit. 

Why is that so important? Because the utility shouldn't be the only ones allowed to sell energy. If you invest your own money in a solar system that generates extra energy, you have the right to sell that energy back to the grid for a similar price as the utility's electricity. That's not only good for solar users. It also saves money for all ratepayers because local solar energy is cheaper. 

But that's not how the monopoly Imperial Irrigation District utility sees it.

The story begins in 2016, when the IID Board of Directors abruptly voted to ban net metering. The decision put 1,000 homeowners and businesses that had already invested in solar in financial uncertainty for months, and effectively stalled the region’s fast-growing solar marketplace. [Desert Sun news story].

A subsequent Desert Sun investigation found evidence that district officials ended net metering in order to steer funds intended to pay ratepayers for their extra solar energy instead towards projects being built by a large private contractor. This contractor did significant business with the county and presumably had more influence than individual homeowners. [Desert Sun investigation and editorial]

Why would an elected board dare to do such a thing, even if they are a monopoly utility? Because the majority of IID ratepayers aren't allowed to vote in IID elections. The IID board is is not accountable to Riverside and San Diego county ratepayers. It is the definition of anti-democratic. 

That's why Riverside County residents asked their elected officials to step up. They listened, and yesterday, county officials unanimously ordered the Imperial Irrigation District to restore net metering to county residents. By law, the IID has 30 days to comply. 

But practically before the ink was dry on the county's action, the IID sued instead, spending ratepayer dollars to try and block the ordinance from going into effect. 

The IID will have their day in court, but they are starting to get outnumbered. Last night, the city of La Quinta followed Riverside County's lead, ordering the city attorney to prepare a resolution similar to that of the county. Will Indio and Coachella follow suit?

Read more about the latest developments from the Desert Sun News, stay tuned, and contact us if you are a Coachella Valley resident and want to get involved in this fight.