Is California becoming an anti-solar state? It sure seems that way considering the state’s recently released state Public Utilities Commission plan, which includes a “grid participation charge” of up to $8 per kW for solar customers. That amounts to more than $50 a month in additional fees for a typical residential customer. The plan would also dramatically cut the price that solar customers get for the surplus electricity they provide back to the grid by eliminating a key incentive program, called net energy metering, that is largely responsible for establishing California as the nation’s largest rooftop solar market, with more than 1.3 million systems installed.
What’s more, the state’s utility commission also wants to cut its rooftop solar energy incentives after many years of success. Grist has noted that the new solar tax could financially hurt low-income families. The article also covered the backlash against policymakers in the state, noting that a coalition of 600 organizations and community leaders have been vocalizing their opposition to the changes through op-eds, petitions, and calling on Governor Newsom to do the right thing – to save California solar.
The coalition also pointed out the obvious: the state Public Utilities Commission plan is a cash grab that will favor the utilities.
At the center of the debate, Grist pointed out, is what is best for California’s low-income electricity consumers and the state’s plans to cut carbon emissions. Those in favor of the change think that net metering has become an unfair burden to lower-income families who have higher electric bills. Matthew Freedman, a staff attorney at the Utilities Reform Network, told Grist that net metering “massively overcompensates participating customers relative to the value that they are providing to the system. It’s a reverse Robin Hood scenario,” he says.
Those opposing the change think that it would harm the state’s thriving solar industry while removing the opportunity of bringing rooftop solar to low-income families who are only now beginning to get access. It would also mean greater use of fossil fuels for generating electricity, which disproportionately harms lower-income communities.
While the simple argument is that paying homeowners for electricity from solar adds costs to other utility ratepayers, the often neglected fact is that rooftop solar reduces the need for transmission infrastructure, saving ratepayers money. It also creates a more secure, stable, and resilient grid. Overall, there are many benefits from rooftop solar, including benefits that mostly help lower-income communities, and framing rooftop solar in a one-dimensional “costs only” way does not do justice to the technology.
Interestingly, due to all of the backlash the proposed solar policy changes garnered before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) actually approved the changes, a vote on the policy modifications has been postponed, indefinitely – but that doesn’t mean the cash grab won’t be back! Keep your voices heard. If you don’t want to see this anti–rooftop solar update go into effect, reach out to the CPUC, Governor Newsom, and anyone else who might have authority on these topics.
About Net Metering
Here’s a great infographic on bi-directional metering, which allows a meter to measure the kWh coming into a home, and also “subtract” the kWh going from the home to the grid, effectively charging the customer just for their “net” energy usage. Eliminating or reducing the rate that solar customers get credited for their excess energy would greatly increase the cost of going solar, with absolutely zero benefit for the people or the environment.