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Published on February 28th, 2016 | by Kyle Field


New PG&E Program Lets Customers Choose Solar

February 28th, 2016 by  

PG&E recently launched the Solar Choice Program, which allows customers to opt in to purchasing 50% or 100% of their power from a central, utility-owned solar farm. This is an exciting move that accomplishes quite a few things in one fell swoop by lowering the bar for customers to go solar and, in parallel, giving PG&E a finger on the pulse for a new solar product. Finally, it also allows them to tie Solar Choice customer bill payments to funding new and existing solar farms. 

Ironically, with the approval of SB 350, California utilities have been mandated to increase the percent of energy sourced from renewables from 33% by 2020 to 50% in 2030, so the Solar Choice program effectively allows PG&E to split base generation from solar generation in order to charge a premium from customers who opt in. If no customers opt in to Solar Choice… the utility still has to buck up and deliver 50% of grid power from renewables… which will be cheaper and customer preferred in the long run… but I digress.

Digging into PG&E’s numbers reveals that more than 55% of the energy it delivers to customers today comes from sources that emit no greenhouse gases — though, this does include the large Diablo Canyon Nuclear Facility. With the Solar Choice program stating that customers opting in support the installation of new solar, it should still make a forward-leaning impact on the grid mix by funding solar specifically.

Flipping over to the customer side of things — why would someone want to opt into a program that likely costs more than the normal power program? Is it the feelgood nature of the program? Is it that they are standing up for what they believe in by putting their money towards solar generation? These do make sense, but given the fact noted above that the utility has to deliver 50% of electricity from renewables by 2030, does opting into such a program make sense? Will it actually result in more solar generation being added? Only time will tell how that actually plays out.

For customers who want to stand up for solar and don’t mind paying a little more for their power (3.58 cents per kWh premium), this program is a perfect fit. That is extremely important for homeowners or renters who, for whatever reason, simply cannot install solar — whether it be due to an HOA, no suitable sunshine, not enough roof space to install sufficient generating capacity, etc… it is an unfortunately all-too-common scenario. A recent NREL study wrote:

“We estimate that only 51% of households can install a 1.5-kW PV system. In other words, shared solar has the potential to double the residential market by offering PV to the 49% of households that—owing to shading, roof suitability and size, or ownership—cannot host a PV system.”

PG&E Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer Laurie Giammona shares the company perspective:

“PG&E’s Solar Choice program is all about giving customers more choice and control over their energy, and bringing the benefits of solar to our communities. Our customers already enjoy some of the cleanest power in the country. Now, they can directly contribute to bringing more renewable energy onto the electric grid – a win for our customers and for California.”


Screen capture of Kelly Slater Wave Company Video (YouTube)

The early response from customers is positive, with many customers getting on board soon after it opened. The Kelly Slater Wave Company is one of the first California businesses to partner with PG&E’s Solar Choice to go 100% solar. The program has allowed it to purchase renewable energy with zero greenhouse gas emissions while shrinking its carbon footprint at the same time.

Image Credit: Kelly Slater Wave Company

Image Credit: Kelly Slater Wave Company

The company is powering its new human-made wave technology at the new high-performance training center in California’s Central Valley. From the aerial views, the location doesn’t appear to have any shortage of land to install a solar array on, but the decision to purchase solar power vs solar panels is also largely impacted by expense vs capital spending. General Manager of the Kelly Slater Wave Company’s Noah Grimmett said,

“This program allows Kelly Slater Wave Company to not only be a pioneer in wave technology, but also in supporting sustainable power initiatives as we act environmentally through an alternative to installing solar panels and fulfill our vision of building the best man-made wave.”

Check out all the details of the Solar Choice Program at

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About the Author

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need.

  • Eddie

    The San Francisco Public Utility Commission (SFPUC) just launched their Clean Power SF program. It is an opt-out program that will provide 35% renewable energy to all San Francisco customers (at the same price as PG&E), and 100% renewable energy for a $0.02 premium for those who sign up for their SuperGreen option.

    I signed up for the SuperGreen options and it comes out to about $4.00 more a month. Worth it in my opinion!

  • Joe Viocoe

    Sure… sounds good. Not the cheapest solar option… but what else can I do as a renter?

    So I just signed up for 100%. An extra $15-$20 per month is worth it to help drive utility scale solar.
    I do wish I could easily see the projects being funded by this 3.58 cents/kwh.

    • Steven F

      I looked at the PG&E Web site. PGE is currently starting their program. Looks like in about a year customers will be able to sign up with other renewable providers. Yes this program currently costs more but if natural gas prices go up it could end up costing less in the long run.

  • Dan Kegel

    Consider this: all new houses built in California after 2020 will be required to be zero-net-energy equivalent. If they have no solar of their own, guess how they can meet that requirement?
    (Allowing this as a way of complying is an idea that has been floated, but I don’t know how far it’s gotten.)

  • Ninjaneerd

    One big problem with the wavepool (IMHO) is that Kelly still has to wear a wetsuit to surf perfect waves, that’s just not acceptable. With the eventual excess solar generation due to the so called “duck curve”, they should install electric heaters to absorb extra production and make the water a much more enjoyable 30°C (86°F).

    • Kyle Field

      Hah – always looking to store excess energy 🙂 I was thinking that the color of the water (dark brown) might be to help maximize the absorption of solar thermal energy to warm the pool. I agree though…the perfect wave in my head does not involve any wetsuits.

      The ideal solution might be a solar thermal water heater…

  • Ivor O’Connor

    That’s a very nice win-win scenario. A 3.58 cents per kWh premium does not seem high but that’s a 20% hike. (Average kWh price in CA is 15.2 cents per kWh.)

    Considering utilities can probably put up solar for 3.58 cents per kWh these days, as an article on CleanTechnica earlier this month showed, the utilities are making a killing off these customers.

    • neroden

      Here in NY, I can buy all-renewable energy for a premium of ONE cent per kwh.

      From a co-op.

      Other states should copy NY’s regulatory structure. It’s obviously superior to California’s. PG&E is just price-gouging (probably because they have no competition).

      • jeffhre

        “PG&E is just price-gouging (probably because they have no competition)”

        Yeah? But that would mean they would have to have a monopoly…oh, right.

    • GCO

      The mission of investor-owned utilities such as PG&E is to maximize profit and the return to those investors. So yes, $$.

      “Somehow” community-owned / municipal utilities manage to offer better service for much cheaper.
      Great example IMHO: City of Palo Alto utilities (CPAU), which not only offered green (solar+wind) power over a decade ago, for cheap (+1.5c/kW⋅h, 11c/kW⋅h), but recently decided to stop differenciating and just switch all customers to zero-carbon electricity, with no rate increase =>

      Bottom line: 9.5c/kW⋅h (residential) for clean power, right on PG&E’s turf, and as far as I can tell, this municipal utility doesn’t even offer a dirty power option anymore. Dang.

  • neroden

    In NY and the other states I’ve looked at, programs like this are required to be “off the top” — no double-counting. It sounds like California hasn’t passed the regulation to prevent double-counting.

    So in NY, if I remember the rules correctly, the utility has to meet a minimum renewable power percentage requirement (RPS) within its “base service”, represented by Renewable Energy Certificates. The utility is not allowed to sell the RECs which count towards its legal requirements; those must be surrendered to the state. If the utility gets extra RECs above the minimum, *then* it can sell them.

    If I choose to buy 100% renewable power, that *doesn’t count* towards the utility’s numbers at all; they don’t get any RECs for it at all.

  • Steve_R

    Something seems crazy wrong here. If a person buys a solar system for their house they expect to pay less in the long run for their electricity. Certainly if they sign a solar lease they pay less for electricity than they otherwise would. And utility scale solar is supposed to be cheaper. And yet you end up paying more??? What am I missing?

    • vensonata

      You are not missing anything. However rooftop is subsidized usually and the utility needs a profit margin, whereas the solar owner does not. That is why rooftop is competitive with utility even when utility is 30% less installed.

      • Steve_R

        Ah, thanks.

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