San Diego utility expects to hit net metering caps in mid-2016

Utility San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) is in a good place to argue that it is conforming with California’s renewable energy mandates. The utility claims that 33% of its generation is already coming “primarily from wind and solar”, five years in advance of the mandate for 2020.

Among this 33%, SDG&E counts 452 MW of distributed solar through the net metering program in its service area. The utility has done this while winning awards for reliable delivery of electricity, which is consistent with the experience of European nations which have added large volumes of wind and solar.

On Thursday, SDG&E warned that it will reach caps on net metering in the summer of 2016, in advance of a forum later in the day on the net metering caps to be held by state regulators.

This is perhaps being generous. SDG&E data on net metering interconnections shows that around 30 MW of net metered systems were added each month during August, September and October. With only 160 MW of capacity left the cap of 617 MW will be reached in May at the current rate, and this is not accounting for a rush by customers in the final months.

This news comes amid ongoing conflicts between solar advocates and utilities over what the form of that new program will be. In a press statement on the pending caps, SDG&E claimed that families without installed PV pay an extra US$100 per year to support net metering, and warned of “unnecessary costs” which “threaten the livelihood of hardworking families”.

The allegation of a costs to non-participating customers has been made by utilities across the nation, and it is highly controversial. Nearly all studies conducted by state governments have found instead that PV system owners who participate in net metering produce a net benefit for other utility customers.

Additionally, hundreds of California residents have attended protests against the proposals by utilities including SDG&E for a program to replace the state’s original net metering policy.

However, it is also clear that net metering cannot continue in its current form once very high levels of solar penetration are reached. Hawaii, which has a much higher level of rooftop solar than elsewhere in the nation, has replaced net metering with alternative programs including self-consumption.