Business · California

California eyes hiking costs for rooftop solar users

California’s long-time solar panel incentive program could soon be taking a big hit. 

Monday, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) proposed increased utility fees for homeowners who have solar panels under the argument that those California residents are not paying their fair share. 

The current net energy metering program – which has existed for the last 26 years – allows residential solar customers the ability to sell unused energy back to utility companies at the retail rate, which drives utility bills down. 

Those low energy bills for solar customers, which sometimes come down to zero dollars, leave the non-solar users bearing the cost of operating the state’s electricity grid, Pacific Gas & Electric argued, saying the current system “negatively impacts nonparticipating customers; is not cost-effective; and disproportionately harms low-income ratepayers.”  

“Sensible reform is necessary to support customer equity and help continue California’s success toward a clean energy future,” PG&E said in a statement. 

The CPUC will take public comment before an expected final vote on the proposal on Jan. 27, 2022. 

With about 1.2 million homes in the state that have solar panels installed, California has the highest number of solar users in the nation. 

But the proposal could drive new customers away, in turn conflicting with California’s clean energy goals, such as Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ban on new gas-powered vehicles in 2035, as well as exploring the possibility of achieving carbon neutrality the same year. 

Along with conflicting directions for clean energy, the solar advocates attacked the proposal, arguing that it would be detrimental to California’s thriving solar industry. 

The Save California Solar Coalition – which consists of over 600 organizations, including solar companies, cities, unions and many other groups – noted that adding the proposed $57 per month solar expense would increase what is already the highest solar fees in the nation. 

The coalition also spoke out against the proposed slashing of export credits from the current $.20-$.30 per kilowatt-hour to $.05 per kilowatt-hour. 

“Despite the overwhelming popularity of rooftop solar in California and more than 120,000 public comments submitted in support of net metering, the CPUC proposed a giveaway to investor-owned utilities that would boost utility profits at the expense of energy consumers, family-supporting jobs, and California’s clean energy future,” the coalition said in a statement. 

“Solar advocates around the state are disappointed the CPUC fell for the utility profit grab by proposing the highest solar penalty fees in the nation and drastically reducing the credit solar consumers receive for selling the excess energy they produce to their neighbors.” 

Bernadette Del Chiaro, the Executive Director of California Solar and Storage Association, called the proposal a disaster. 

“This is a clean energy and jobs disaster,” Del Chiaro said in a statement. “With this proposal, California would abandon its long-held position as a clean energy leader, threatening the jobs of tens of thousands of hard working men and women who provide clean, reliable energy for millions of consumers today. Gov. Newsom needs to clean this mess up and get California back on track as a solar leader.”

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.