California commission releases revised proposal to reduce refunds to rooftop solar customers

Future California rooftop solar generators could receive less rebate for the electricity they sell to the grid, if a proposed decision by the state’s public utilities commission wins final approval.

The proposalreleased Thursday by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), would revamp the state’s “net energy metering” (NEM) solar rate, which allowed households to get a credit on their utility bills to retail tariffs and offset monthly energy expenses.

While existing solar customers could maintain this arrangement for 20 years, future customers would face different terms: tariffs tied to the value of electricity at any given time of day. They would also be subject to a fixed monthly fee.

“Since implementing net energy metering over 20 years ago, California has witnessed the evolution of the customer rooftop solar industry,” Administrative Judge Kelly Hymes wrote. , which made the proposed decision, in its introduction.

Crediting the change with installing more than 12 gigawatts of clean power, Hymes pointed out that “California’s power grid needs require further evolution.”

The proposed decision, which will be put to a vote at the state’s Utilities Committee meeting on December 15, aims to improve the pricing structure while crediting customers for the electricity they export based on its value for the network, A declaration of the commission said.

The proposal would leverage an additional $900 million in funding approved by the state legislature in upfront incentives for residential solar adopters who also install storage batteries. Of that total, 70% – $630 million – would be earmarked for low-income customers.

Thursday’s proposed decision has been the subject of much controversyenvironmental groups widely protesting the changes to the net metering structure, arguing that it would slow California’s transition to a clean energy-based grid.

Proponents of the changes – which include major state utilities – argue that the current system disadvantages low-income households because they pay higher rates to compensate for the solar subsidy.

Before releasing Thursday’s proposal, Hymes made a decision retire a December 2021 release, which it described as “fixing most of the scope issues.”

If the latest proposal is approved, new solar customers would be required to participate in an ‘electrification runtime’ plan – or pay varying prices to import power from the grid at different times of the day .

These import prices would be highest during the “peak” period between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., according to a billing explanation for customers. Eligible customers will also pay a monthly fee of approximately $15.

The explanation justifies these “small charges” as a mechanism to maintain the power grid and help low-income Californians get electricity and access clean energy programs.

Under the proposal, customers who installed rooftop solar panels before the ruling was passed would receive their original net metering terms for 20 years from the time their system started operating.

Meanwhile, households that connect solar systems to the grid after its adoption – but before the end of 2027 – would receive time-of-use prices based on what was planned before installing their systems. .

Hymes touted the potential of pricing mechanisms to promote the installation of storage systems so customers can export power during evening hours.

According to Hymes, Californians today rely heavily on sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the late afternoon and evening. Updating the billing structure, she argued, would optimize network use, increase reliability and promote affordability at all income levels.

The current net energy metering system “has a negative impact on non-participating ratepayers; disproportionately hurts low-income taxpayers; and is not profitable,” she added.

Compared to the December 2021 version, the new proposal eliminates a controversial $8 per kilowatt “network participation fee” and replaces a $600 million equity fund with $630 million reserved for low-income adopters .

The Affordable Clean Energy for All coalition – which has long advocated for net metering reform – expressed disappointment with the new terms.

The CPUC’s proposed ruling “fails to make the meaningful reform needed to ensure that all electricity customers, those with rooftop solar and those without, pay their fair cost share of power system reliability,” the coalition said in a statement.

The coalition includes about 120 organizations, representing low-income families, small businesses, community groups and major utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

“Under this proposal, low-income families and all customers without solar power will continue to pay a hidden tax on their electric bills to subsidize rooftop solar for the most affluent Californians,” said coalition spokeswoman Kathy Fairbanks.

Environmental organizations that had opposed the December 2021 version of the ruling also expressed dissatisfaction.

“The latest proposal will make it even more expensive for working-class families to adopt rooftop solar,” Ken Cook, chairman of the environmental task force, said in a statement.

Cook described “monopoly utilities” and their supporters as having “all the power”, stressing that the changes are “just a minor strategic retreat”.

“Utilities and their pocket regulators on commission have no intention of ceding control to customers and communities by allowing residential solar competition to thrive,” he said.

Laura Deehan, California’s state environmental manager, expressed similar concerns that the revised proposal “will still make the transition to solar power more expensive.”

“At a time when California needs rooftop solar to thrive, it is risky to remove a key incentive without having a viable alternative in place,” Deehan said in an emailed statement.

“California policymakers must make rooftop solar as affordable and accessible as possible so that every home with solar potential can make a realistic choice to go solar,” he said. she adds.

Update: 7:32 p.m.

Aurora J. William