California regulators may consider utility proposal for net metering 2.0


Net metering is the most fundamental policy for the U.S. rooftop solar market, and California is by far the largest state market. This means that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) ruling on a successor program to net metering which is planned for January 28 is the biggest pending policy decision for the U.S. solar market, now that the Investment Tax Credit has been extended.

Earlier this month the California solar industry appeared to be in a good position, with CPUC issuing a Proposed Decision in mid-December that retained the basic features of retail-rate net metering and rejected most of the mechanisms proposed by utilities to weaken compensation levels for customer-sited PV. However, solar advocates have expressed great alarm at a turn of events over the last few days.

Today the CPUC held an “all-party meeting” on the successor program to net metering, which the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CalSEIA) said might involve an attempt to consider an alternative proposal to the Proposed Decision. On January 7, San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) issued comments on the proposed decision which advocacy group Vote Solar Initiative says represents a new policy proposal, and it is feared that this may be the proposal that regulators will consider.

One of the key features of a joint proposal by California’s investor-owned utilities would be to reduce compensation levels for electricity exported to the grid by customer-sited PV. The utilities proposed reducing this rate to US$ 0.15 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) until a certain threshold of power is reached, and then to US$ 0.13/kWh thereafter. California's utilities additionally propose scrapping virtual net metering, which allows customers to receive credits for solar arrays that are not located at the site where they consume electricity.

Vote Solar says that an alternative policy proposal would be in violation of commission rules. “Not only is it against the Commission’s procedural rules to push a new policy after a proposed decision has been published, but the utilities don’t provide any data even attempting to show that their proposed rate is fair compensation for the benefits of solar generation or that it will keep rooftop solar growing sustainably in California,” stated Vote Solar in a blog post. “This effort is all kinds of wrong, but that hasn’t stopped the utilities from throwing the kitchen sink at it.”

Vote Solar and CalSEIA both note the re-emergence of a organization backed by SDG&E parent company Sempra Energy which presents itself as a civic movement to lower electricity costs by scuttling net metering. Fix My Energy Bill took out a full-page ad in San Diego’s daily paper on January 12, and Vote Solar and CalSEIA note that the organization nowhere reveals that it is funded by Sempra Energy.

Vote Solar cites strong backing from a variety of communities in California for net metering, and notes that it delivered over 150,000 petitions to the CPUC supporting the retention of basic features of the policy in the new program.

Neither CalSEIA nor Vote Solar was available for comment at the time this article was published.

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Update January 20, 16:30 Pacific Time: Vote Solar has informed pv magazine that the all-party meeting did not include the introduction of an alternative to the Proposed Decision, and that no alternative proposal is formally being considered by CPUC at this time.

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