California is known globally for its environmentalism and embrace of renewable energy. It turns out that Californians also don’t like their utilities, at least when they feel that their utilities are standing in the way of the expansion of rooftop solar.
These tensions are beginning to show around proposals to replace California’s current policy for net metering with a new policy once caps are reached. Net metering is the foundational policy support for rooftop solar across 44 of the nation’s 50 states, and allows solar PV system owners to trade electricity they generate for electricity from the utility on a 1-1 basis.
On Wednesday, supporters of solar rallied at the headquarters of utility Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) to protest the utility’s proposals for a policy to replace net metering, which they say will block the sun.
One participant estimated that 150-175 persons attended in the protest, and there were some big names among those. This included Grammy-award winning artist and climate activist Malik Yusef, film and stage actress Antonique Smith and Reverend Lennox Yearwood of the Hip-Hop Caucus, as well as advocates from inside the solar industry such as marketing guru Tor Solar Fred Valenza.
"California leads the nation in solar energy installation, and if CPUC adopts PG&E’s net metering proposals, it will slow down rooftop solar adoption across the U.S., warned Valenza. It will send a signal to other utility commissions that if liberal California says it’s okay to devalue solar, then we can too.
We’re in a climate and water crisis. Now is not the time to slow down solar adoption, but that’s what PG&E’s proposals will do.
Vote Solar Initiative was also present, as one of the organizers of the rally. Every solar rooftop we have in this state is there because our California energy consumers chose to lead, and the utility was required by law and regulation to
allow that progress, said Vote Solar West Coast Regional Director Susannah Churchill. We need the CPUC to once again hold PG&E accountable to the interests of its customers, not its profits.
PG&E’s proposal for net metering 2.0 include a requirement for solar customers to move to time-of-use rates, a monthly demand charge of $3 per kilowatt and an end to virtual net metering. The utility also proposes that PV system owners be credited at a lower rate than retail electricity, which it estimates would be around $0.09 per kilowatt-hour.
On the same day as the rally, the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA) released results of a poll which found that 80% of California voters oppose utility proposals to lower the value of compensation for solar PV. The poll also found that 88% feel that more should be done to encourage rooftop solar.
The poll was commissioned by CALSEIA and Brightline Defense. Similar to the findings of other polls across the United States, solar was the preferred form of electricity generation among those surveyed. 90% approve of solar as a means of electricity generation, as opposed to 46% for nuclear power and 31% for coal.
Additionally, 82% see rooftop solar as an important way to mitigate the severity of Climate Change, and 74% see it as a way to avoid building more power plants in disadvantaged communities.
The rally and poll came the day after Hawaii closed its net metering program to new applicants. Hawaiian regulators have put forward new policies to replace net metering, with a strong focus on self-consumption using batteries and energy management.