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By Carolyn Whetzel
Jan. 28 — Rooftop solar customers of California's three investor-owned utilities will continue to get paid full retail rates for the excess energy their systems generate, under a net metering program the California Public Utilities Commission approved Jan. 28.
In a 3-2 vote, the California Public Utilities Commission updated the existing net energy metering structure. The decision preserved a provision requiring Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. to pay rooftop solar customers the full retail rate for electricity they add to the grid.
Now, however, net metering customers must pay a one-time interconnection fee of up to $150 and help fund low-income and efficiency programs. Residential net metering customers must take electricity on a time-of-use rate, under the program.
The decision comes as states across the nation grapple with how to transition to renewable energy in ways to ensure utility rates adequately cover the costs of maintaining and operating transmission grids.
In Nevada, utility regulators reduced credits for residential solar customers. As a result, many solar developers pulled out of the state.
California regulators rejected proposals by the investor-owned utilities for higher fees and lower payments for rooftop solar customers.
A last minute revision to the initial proposed decision eliminated transmission charges for net metering customers, prompting “no” votes from two commissioners.
“I was planning to vote yes on the proposed decision,” Commissioner Catherine J.K. Sandoval said at the meeting in San Francisco. “Unfortunately due to the elimination of the transmission charges, a change that was revealed yesterday afternoon, I can't.”
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“My biggest concern” is that by eliminating the transmission charges, non-participating customers will paying more, she said.
Commissioner Mike Florio also said the last minute change to the proposed decision tipped him to no.
“I understand that the solar industry was feeling nervous” after Nevada, Florio said. “There was zero chance that California would do something like Nevada.”
Florio said the revised proposal provides a benefit the solar industry didn't need, especially after Congress extended the investment tax credit.
“Frankly, I'm a bit baffled how all of this unfolded,” Florio said. The solar industry supported the initial proposal he said.
Legislation enacted in 2013 required the utility regulators to revisit the net meeting program to ensure that solar customers pay an appropriate portion of costs.
“Finding the right balance” is really a great challenge, CPUC Chairman Michael Picker said. “This has been a very difficult task.”
Picker apologized for not being able to achieve consensus on how to price fixed costs or having to defer efforts to use the proceeding to expand solar in disadvantaged communities. Some of the issues will be revisited in other proceedings and when the net metering program is reviewed again in 2019, he said.
“This decision doesn't get everything right, but it gets us further along,” Picker said. “Today's decision is another big step toward giving California consumers more choice, more control and more responsibility over energy and climate change issues.”
The California Solar Industries Association said the decision maintains the full retail credit for net metering for 20 years. The updated program also expands access to solar for renters and retains access for farmers, the group said.
“We all know that California is a world leader when it comes to being ‘green,' ” CALSEIA Executive Director Bernardette Del Chiaro said in a written statement. “But today's vote is more than that. It is about California continuing to champion innovation and a different way of doing things, in this case, building a smarter energy grid and allowing individual consumers to generate their own clean energy.”
The new net metering program is effective once existing solar customers meet current participation caps, or July 1, 2017, whichever occurs first, the commission said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Carolyn Whetzel in Los Angeles at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at email@example.com.
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