More than 130,000 petitions to preserve net metering delivered in California

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The fight over the future of net metering continues in California, with pro-solar advocates employing a new weapon: wheelbarrows.

On Thursday, solar advocates and their allies pushed wheelbarrows full of petitions and postcards to the front steps of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), representing the voices of more than 130,000 residents of the state calling for an extension of net metering.

The coalition that has come together to support net metering is quite impressive, with another nine organizations joining the usual players at Vote Solar Initiative, Environment California, CalSEIA and the Sierra Club. This includes the San Francisco local of the powerful Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), Interfaith Power and Light, and the American Lung Association.

CPUC is currently considering the policy to replace net metering once program caps are hit, which could happen as early as mid-2016 in the service area of San Diego Gas & Electric Company. The petitions pushed by solar advocates stand in opposition to proposals by the state’s three main investor-owned utilities, which the petition describes as “extreme”.

These utility proposals are not substantially different than those produced by other utilities in other parts of the nation. The three call for different combinations of unfavorable rate designs for solar, new monthly charges based on the kW capacity of PV systems, increases in other fees such as interconnection fees, lower than retail compensation for net metering, and an end to virtual net metering.

In many states solar advocates have been able to defeat utility attempts to curtail net metering and/or impose discriminatory fees. However, California has different circumstances due to a much higher level of both distributed and utility-scale solar penetration than almost any other state.

In California high levels of solar production during the spring and fall have driven wholesale electricity prices into the negative, and throughout the year shift net demand from during the day until the evening after the sun sets.

In Hawaii, which has a much higher level of distributed solar than California, regulators recently closed the state’s net metering program and introduced a new policy for self-consumption.

GTM Research Senior VP of Research Shayle Kann notes that California is still a long way from reaching unmanageable levels of solar on either an economic or technical level. "It’s unlikely that you will have full retail net metering in perpetuity," Kann told pv magazine. "Does that mean that you need to get rid of it today? We are still at very low penetrations."

"You can make a cogent argument that whether or not you think net metering can exist forever, it is certainly worth consideration for the time being."

As by far the nation’s largest distributed solar market, California also has more to lose from any policy disruption than other states. Of the 174,000 workers employed in the solar industry as of November 2014, 55,000 were located in California, or nearly 1/3 of the total.

Update: This article was modified on November 6 at 2:20 PM EST to feature the quote from Shayle Kann of GTM Research.