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Rooftop Solar Industry Says Rate Changes Could Spell Doom

Elliott Brown / Flickr

Elliott Brown / Flickr

Proponents of rooftop solar energy are asking California regulators not to change the industry’s electric rates.

Utilities currently must pay rooftop solar owners for their excess energy, under a policy known as “net metering.” Essentially, customers receive the same retail rate as they pay for energy they use.

Pacific Gas & Electric, among others, argues that the higher rate raises its cost, so customers without rooftop solar systems pay more. The utility has proposed the state Public Utilities Commission do away with net metering and allow utilities to charge a rate closer to what it pays other generators.

"This is a compensation that more accurately reflects the value of the electricity that they are sending back to the grid, just as if you were to go out and procure that energy on the market," says PG&E spokeswoman Ellen Hayes. "So that’s the rationale there."

The utility also wants to add a fee for customers who use rooftop solar, which it says will average about $15 a month.

The rooftop solar industry says the conflict is broader.

Bernadette Del Chiaro of the California Solar Energy Industries Association says PG&E sees a threat and wants to stamp it out.

"PG&E is a monopoly utility, and they do not like their customers generating their own electricity," says Del Chiaro. "It cuts at their very business model and how they make money. When we build small power plants on our roofs, there’s no need to build those big transmission lines."

The Public Utilities Commission will decide on PG&E’s proposal by the end of the year.

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