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Utilities Dissatisfied, Industry Praises Calif. Rooftop Solar Proposal

Elliott Brown / Flickr

Elliott Brown / Flickr

The rooftop solar industry hailed a long-awaited proposal by California energy regulators Tuesday. Over the objections from utilities, the plan would leave current rules mostly intact.

The California Public Utilities Commission has spent a year-and-a-half considering how households with rooftop solar panels pay and are paid by utilities. The proposed rule avoids large-scale changes sought by utilities, which rooftop solar companies said could cripple their industry.

PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric argue the current "net-metering" system requires them to pay a higher rate for the excess power rooftop solar customers generate than they pay for other energy. Those costs are passed on to ratepayers.

The commission did not incorporate proposals by the utilities to lower the rate and add monthly connection fees, but the rule would add a hook-up fee for new rooftop solar installations, as well as charges for transmission, energy efficiency and low-income programs that are already paid by other customers. Still, rooftop solar advocates praised it.

"It preserves consumers’ ability to go solar," says Bernadette Del Chiaro of the California Solar Energy Industries Association. "It rejects the utilities proposals to lower people’s compensation for their solar electricity program, and just pretty much preserves California’s very successful net-metering program."

In statements, the utilities expressed disappointment.

But the nearly 150-page proposal does not weigh in on the central debate between utilities and industry advocates--whether rooftop solar is a net boon or cost to utilities.

"It is not possible to come to a comprehensive, reliable, and  analytically sound determination of the  benefits and costs," the proposal says.

If the full commission adopts the rule in January, it calls for reevaluation as soon as 2019.

Farmers, Military and Feds

The draft rule also incorporates programs sought by farmers, the military, federal agencies, and social justice organizations.

It would increase the size of rooftop solar installations that can take advantage of net-metering, a key request of the military, which has a federal mandate to obtain 25 percent of the energy it uses from renewable sources by 2025.

It also continues to allow farmers to count solar energy from panels on one part of their land to electricity charged to multiple meters across the farm.

The rule would also expand opportunities for renters and lower-income communities to buy rooftop solar power.