Thursday, January 28, 2016

California Solar Braces for Uncertain Future

California has more rooftop solar than any state in the country. Advocates want to keep it that way. (Credit: AP Photo/Matt York) Click to Enlarge.
Solar advocates in California — including from church groups, social justice organizations, farms, schools, and city councils, as well as the usual industry figures — are on the edge of their seats, awaiting a decision from the utility regulator that will shape how rooftop solar is billed in the future.

Industry insiders say they are most worried that utilities are lobbying behind the scenes for fees and charges that will effectively destroy net metering, a billing system that pays solar customers back for excess electricity that goes back on the grid.

“Utilities are taking a multi-pronged approach to undermine net metering in any way they can,” said Susan Glick, senior manager for public policy for Sunrun, a California-based solar company.

But as the number of people with solar approaches the current cap on net metering, the California Public Utilities Commission has to consider what the program will look like going forward.  The PUC will vote Thursday on a proposed decision — but they have the option to adjust the proposal or even replace it entirely.
An average system owner could see fees go from between $8.80 and $10.07 to between $18.30 and $21.85 — not including the actual cost of electricity

The proposed decision for net metered rates is an acceptable compromise, Glick said.  As currently written, new net metered customers will pay a one-time interconnection fee, a “non-bypassable charge” that goes to support low-income and other common good programs, and time-of-use rates, which scale the cost of electricity to the amount of demand throughout the day. (California is in the process of transitioning all customers to time-of-use rates, in an effort to incentivize conservation during peak demand times.  The PUC doesn’t want people to be charging their electric cars or running their driers at noon, while every office building is running air conditioners at full blast.)

Generally speaking, in addition to paying for the actual electricity, customers pay additional fees per kilowatt hour.  California residents pay a negligible amount towards a bond in preparation for an energy crisis.  They also pay for nuclear decommissioning and a Public Purpose Program charge.  The new rate structure will ensure that solar customers pay more towards the Public Purpose Program and other shared costs than they do now by setting that as a non-bypassable charge.

But the biggest concern for Thursday’s decision is that the PUC will tack on more fees — ones that aren’t in the proposal so far.  Her company estimates that including transmission and other charges could double the cost to solar customers.  An average system owner could see fees go from between $8.80 and $10.07 to between $18.30 and $21.85 — not including the actual cost of electricity.  Glick says the PUC needs to clarify that only funding for the Public Purpose Program, nuclear decomissioning, competition transition, and a California bond would be included.

Read more at California Solar Braces for Uncertain Future

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