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East County News Service

Photo by Jessica Walls

January 28, 2016 (San Diego) – By a 3-2 vote, the California Public Utilities Commission today voted to retain net energy metering that supporters say is crucial to support growth of rooftop solar power.  Though some changes will be made, the ruling protects compensation for consumers who produce surplus solar power for the grid.

Hailed as a victory for rooftop solar advocates, the decision has drawn praise from environmentalists but criticism from San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E).

Pete Hasapopoulos, San Diego Organizer for the Sierra Club’s My Generation Campaign, issued the following statement in response:

“Today’s ruling is a critical victory supporting San Diego’s recent commitment to move to 100% clean energy by 2035. By supporting the net metering structure that has enabled California’s robust rooftop solar market to grow, the Commission has made it possible for San Diego to reach its clean energy goals. More solar is also great news for San Diego’s school districts, which will be able to use rooftop solar panels to save on their energy bills and keep more funding in the classroom.”

He added, “This is a win for consumer choice over utility monopolies. Families, schools, and businesses will continue to have the choice to go solar, and the rooftop solar industry will continue to grow. We stand firm in protecting energy choice from utility monopolies.”

Last year, the Sierra Club organized pro-solar San Diegans at a series of house parties, held a solar rally at Sempra headquarters, and released ads targeting San Diego Gas & Electric’s efforts that the Sierra Club claimed aimed to undermine rooftop solar.

But SDG&E  issued a statement indicating that it strongly supports renewable energy including rooftop solar, but added, “We strongly believe that the growth of rooftop solar should not penalize customers who do not own a home or are unable to afford or accommodate rooftop solar.”

The utility’s statement blasted the CPUC decision:  “Today, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) ignored state law and the clear direction from the state legislature, which called for them to reform Net Energy Metering to ensure the benefits are balanced with the costs of the program. While we are still evaluating the decision, it appears to largely maintain the current program, penalizing the 95 percent of our customers who don’t have solar by adding an extra $300 on their utility bills by 2025.”

SDG&E concluded, “We are encouraged by and applaud the two CPUC commissioners and consumer advocates who recognize that today’s decision is flawed and will only further penalize the majority of our customers and grow the cost shift. This decision will likely be celebrated by vendors profiting from today’s decision, but moving forward it becomes increasingly important for all parties to work together to develop a modern solution to this outdated program--one that complies with state law and balances everyone’s interests.”

The decision does include some changes that will apply to customers under a new IOU net metering program. Those include:

  • Requires solar customers to pay non-bypassable charges on all the energy they consume from the grid, regardless of how much clean energy they export back to the grid. These new charges are expected to add approximately 2-3 cents per kilowatt hour for energy exported back to the grid, equivalent to about $6-8/month for an average residential solar customer, which can be used to support programs such as help for low-income consumers.  (The Commission removed two categories of charges from the list included in the December proposed decision, following clean energy advocates’ argument that rooftop solar reduces the need for new transmission and new large-scale power plants.)
  • Puts a small interconnection fee in place to ensure that customers cover the costs to the utility of plugging into the grid, another reasonable compromise. The amount of the fee may only include the following Commission-approved utility costs: Net Metering Processing and Administrative Costs, Distribution Engineering Costs, and Metering Installation/Inspection and Commissioning Costs.
  • Requires all residential customers who go solar under the new net metering tariff to take service on a time-of-use (TOU) rate schedule, meaning rooftop solar generation will be credited more during times of peak electricity system need. (existing NEM customers will be able to stay on their rate design plans)

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