Suzanne Potter/ California News Service
In a big win for rooftop solar in California, the state Public Utilities Commission last week rejected big fee increases and cuts to reimbursement rates – changes sought by the big three utility companies.
In a decision supported by consumer groups, the rooftop-solar industry and environmental groups concerned about climate change, the commissioners voted to keep the current system of net metering, making a few changes for new customers.Alison Seel, an attorney with the Sierra Club, praised the decision.
“We think it keeps what’s working about our current rooftop solar policy,” she said. “It keeps the simplicity and familiarity of net metering and, at the same time, it makes adjustments which are going to incentivize the smarter use of solar generation.”
The current version of net metering is capped at 5 percent of the customer base. Once that cap is reached, probably later this year or early next year, any new solar customers will be charged a hookup fee of about $150 to connect to the grid and paid more for electricity generated at peak hours.
According to the utility companies, the decision means non-solar customers will have to bear more than their share of the cost to maintain the power grid. The same type of decision recently went the other way in Nevada, Seel noted, where the PUC allowed NV Energy to slash the amount it pays solar homeowners for their extra power. As a result, several solar companies pulled out of the market and laid off thousands of solar installers.
“The experiences in some other states like Nevada have shown us that if you make really drastic changes in rooftop solar compensation, you can completely crater the market. And that’s definitely not something that anyone in California wants.”
People who already have solar on their roofs will still be paid, dollar for dollar, for the power they generate above what they use. But the changes will kick in once a homeowner’s system turns 20 years old.