Rooftop solar progress threatened

Utility companies are pushing for new government-guaranteed deals in California, which will make solar less affordable for low- to middle-income families.

Rooftop solar progress threatened

By Lynn Owens

By most measures, California is the most solar state in the U.S. And, in 2016, Scripps Ranch (i.e., ZIP Code 92131) was already the number 1 most solar-saturated ZIP Code area in California, with solar panels on 26 percent of Scripps Ranch homes.

Installing solar has always been something of a leap of faith, because even with rebates and such, the typical solar installation requires 11-plus years to recoup initial costs. Part of the cost savings come from “net metering” – the ability to sell excess generation to SDG&E at a reasonable price. Rooftop solar owners were guaranteed that net metering rules wouldn’t change until 20 years after the installation date.

But now it’s 2022. SDG&E is still paying a shareholder dividend of nearly 3 percent, and the CEO of SDG&E’s parent company, Sempra Energy, made $23 million in 2020. However, SDG&E, together with Consolidated Edison and PG&E, are pushing hard for new government-guaranteed deals. In 2021 they tried, unsuccessfully, to get favorable changes through the California legislature. Now, they are lobbying the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC):

1. They want to charge a monthly solar penalty fee of about $57 per household. This alone makes solar uneconomical for small installations. Each household currently pays a minimum of $11.20/month even if it generates excess electricity.

2. Drastically reduce the credit consumers receive for selling excess power back to the grid, from about 25 cents per kilowatt hour down to about 5 cents. 

3. Reduce the net metering protections from 20 down to 15 years and eliminate protections completely for users who accept battery rebates.

The utilities claim these changes are needed for “fairness” to low-income households who could not tra-ditionally afford solar. However, these changes together make solar less affordable than ever for low- to middle-income families and, practically speaking, will slow new solar installations to a trickle. Meanwhile, California – and the world – need solar to reduce greenhouse gases and slow climate change. Rooftop solar spares open space from turning into huge solar farms and keeps clean electric generation close to home.

What can you do? Educate yourself, tell your neighbors, and contact California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Newsom has the power to stop these changes, but only if he’s convinced that the people of California see what a bad deal this is. See for more details.

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