California Utilities Balk as Home Solar Producers Near 5 Percent Limit

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California solar produced on rooftops is about to breach the next limit of 5 percent of aggregate customer peak demand. The effect could be to sunset the incredible growth of distributed solar rooftop power in the state, as utility payments are ended for future rooftop solar production.

Why is there a limt? Because utilities in California must pay homeowners who generate clean power for the grid. “Net metering” gives solar customers fair credit on their utility bills for the power they generate. There is a five percent cap on the amount of net metering that utilities must make available to customers. That limit was already raised once a couple of years ago, from about half that amount.

The state regulators at the CPUC have proposed closing that loophole and requiring utilities to calculate net metering participation in a way that permits more participation by more customers. Once there is more than five percent provided there’s no guarantee that utilities will continue to credit new solar customers for their contribution to cleaning the grid with their rooftop solar.

Most solar in California – like most urban states – is on grid: that is, the grid is the battery. Everyone who puts solar on their roof contributes to the grid, and is credited for their contribution, and takes from the grid, for example, at night, and is debited for that. It’s like rollover minutes for solar.

What is left after the resulting balance of the energy “credits and debits” is what the customer pays the utility. After you go solar, that is not much, to be honest.

My own energy habit (550 kWh a month) was costing me about $110 a month to PG&E before I went solar, and about $4 – $9 after. So you can see where the utility might balk at letting this go unchecked. Especially as, at least in PG&E’s case, they not only taught me everything I know about solar for free in their truly outstanding solar classes at the PEC in the first place. (I took their solar classes to sell solar, but turned out to have no sales ability.)

PG&E also provides all their solar customers with the most incredibly informative and helpful solar call center for answering customers’ solar questions. Both of these services are world class. They seem like a really good faith attempt to encourage solar, and ironically, they helped get us to this situation that is bad for them.

Its very success has meant that the increasing numbers of smalltime solar generators impacts the three big utilities in the state. Obviously they lose a lot of money if too many people like me go from paying them over $100 to under $10 a month. (Of course, on the other hand, all those solar rooftops also mean they don’t have to build or buy that power elsewhere.)

According to Vote Solar, the big three utilities which must participate in the CSI are lobbying to have that percent limit retained.

But solar homeowners are becoming a sizable lobby ing force in their own right. An amazing 34,000 of them have contacted the CPUC to allow the limit to be raised. You can  join Vote Solar’s action to support solar rooftop development.

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