California regulators propose to keep solar net metering, with modifications


As it is by far the largest distributed solar market in the United States, California is a key battleground for the future of net metering. And today solar advocates have won a major victory, if not yet the war.

A proposed decision issued today by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recommends keeping the basic features of net metering after 2017, with some minor modifications. It also rejects utility proposals to impose monthly fixed charges and demand charges on PV system owners.

California will end its current net metering program when utilities hit capacity-based caps, or in July 2017, whichever comes first. San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) has predicted that its will hit program caps in mid-2016, giving greater urgency to the design of a successor program.

The proposed decision by Administrative Law Judge Anne Simon would see the one-to-one trade of electricity from customer-owned PV systems for retail electricity continue. It would impose an interconnection fee, estimated at US$75-$150 for new customers, and require that net metering customers pay $0.02-0.03 per kilowatt-hour of “non-bypassable charges” on every kilowatt-hour they consume, regardless of how much they offset with generation. These non-bypassable charges are used to fund low-income and efficiency programs.

Additionally, PV system owners will need to move to time-of-use rates. For customers who apply for the program after 2018, these will go into effect upon signing up for net metering. For customers who apply before 2018, these will begin in 2019, when all residential customers move to default time-of-use rates.

Additionally, CPUC will set up two new programs to push greater adoption of distributed solar. This includes financial assistance for multi-family buildings to install solar PV, and a program to allow residential customers in disadvantaged communities to participate in net metering even if they are renters.

The decision was applauded by solar advocates. ”This proposed decision represents a balanced path forward that will support consumer savings, local jobs, healthier communities and climate progress,” said Vote Solar West Coast Regional Director Susannah Churchill in an emailed statement.

“It rejects the utilities’ flawed math and misleading rhetoric on the grid impacts of rooftop solar, and it affirms that full retail credit for net metering is the right way forward for California energy consumers.”

The California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA) also praised the decision. "It is so intersting that as the Paris climate agreement ink is not even yet dry, the Brown CPUC is clearly rejecting the utilities’ attempts to kill rooftop solar in California," CALSEIA Executive Director Bernadette Del Chiaro told pv magazine.

"To me, the most important thing is that they roundly rejected the ideas that the utilities put out there, which were intended to do harm to the market.”

The proposed decision is scheduled for a vote of the full CPUC on January 28, and CALSEIA notes that the fight is not over. "The essential thing going forward is that the CPUC remain strong and not bend to the pressure that the utilities will put over the next thirty days," warns Del Chiaro.

Update: This article was modified at 3:55 PM Eastern Time (U.S.) on December 15 to include commentary by CALSEIA.