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Rooftop solar users dodge a rate hit

By December 25, 2015 No Comments

Aaron Orlowski

December 25, 2015

 

In a coup for future rooftop solar customers and California’s booming solar industry, regulators Tuesday proposed

keeping largely intact the system that compensates homeowners for sending electricity back to utilities from their

panels.

The California Public Utilities Commission’s new “net metering” rules will apply to customers of California’s three

regulated utilities – including Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric – who install rooftop solar

panels, starting sometime in 2016 or 2017.

“The proposed decision essentially leaves (net metering) intact,” said Shannon O’Rourke, the CPUC’s lead analyst

in the proceeding.

The CPUC could vote to approve the proposed rules as soon as the commission’s Jan. 28 meeting.

Current solar customers are grandfathered in under the current system for 20 years after their solar panels are

connected to the grid.

New solar customers will fall under the new rules when their utility hits a cap on rooftop solar – 5 percent of total

generation – or July 2017, whichever comes first. The CPUC expects the three major California utilities to hit that

cap sometime next year.

There are a few changes in the way the utilities treat solar users.

The CPUC’s proposal would add a one-time interconnection fee to pay for the inspections and other costs of

plugging a new solar array into the grid. The commission estimates that fee would range from $75 to $150.

New solar customers would also pay more for programs that help low-income customers and bolster energy

efficiency. The CPUC estimates that fee would increase the average solar customer’s fee from roughly $5 per

month to $10.

The fees are reasonable, said Sachu Constantine, the policy director for the Center for Sustainable Energy, an

advocacy group. “As long as we keep cost containment in place, then we’ll be in good shape.”

Utilities disagreed, saying solar users needed to pay more. They say the costs of maintaining the grid are being

shouldered by a dwindling base of non-solar ratepayers.

San Diego Gas & Electric, which serves south Orange County, called the net metering program a “solar subsidy”

and criticized the proposed decision for not addressing “the growing cost burden among our customers.”

“People shouldn’t be penalized with higher electric bills just because they are unable to afford or accommodate

solar on their rooftops,” said SDG&E spokeswoman Amber Albrecht.

“This proposed decision continues this unfair burden,” said Edison Senior Vice President Ron Nichols.

For months, solar advocates had feared that the CPUC’s proposed decision might cripple California’s growing solar

industry if it lowered the rate at which customers are compensated for the extra electricity their solar panels

generate.

Instead, that aspect of net metering remains the same: a one-for- one, full retail compensation for electricity a

solar customer generates but doesn’t use. Essentially, a solar customer’s electric meter turns backwards when

they generate excess electricity.

However, the CPUC’s proposed decision would also shift residential solar customers to time-of- use rates slightly

quicker than non-solar customers.

Time-of- use charges customers different rates for electricity consumed at different times of the day, discouraging

heavy consumption at peak grid demand. Many commercial customers already have those rates, and the CPUC is

moving to put all residential customers on them by 2019.

Solar customers will have to sign up a bit earlier, in 2018. They will both be charged more for consuming electricity

at peak demand times, and get compensated more for exporting electricity to the grid at those times.

That requirement irked the solar industry. Lyndon Rive, CEO of Solar City, cautioned that time-of- use rates would

diminish the incentive to go solar.

http://www.ocregister.com/articles/solar-696233- customers-cpuc.html