California regulators proposed sweeping changes to the state's thriving residential solar business, including decreasing the savings homeowners with rooftop solar and storage systems receive on their electric bills when they sell excess energy back to the power companies.
California's successful initiative to encourage more people to install solar panels on their homes has sparked a heated dispute between the state's major utilities and the solar sector, and the California Public Utilities Commission's suggested amendments have been eagerly awaited.
The state's three biggest utilities — Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison — claim that the savings solar consumers are now receiving are so significant that they are no longer paying their fair part for the overall running of the energy infrastructure.
The CPUC's plan would lower incentives for adopting solar and approximately double the time it takes Californians to recoup their investment in solar systems, from five to ten years. The solar business is purchasing rooftop solar panels, and a strategy to store excess electricity costs around $40,000.
According to the CPUC, the modifications are intended to make the program, known as "net energy metering," more cost-efficient and to guarantee that energy grid operation expenses are equitably shared. However, the solar sector and its allies have cautioned that the changes will make it more difficult for the state to meet its clean energy goals, such as generating 100 percent of retail power from renewable or zero-carbon sources by 2045.
"The proposal will set us back on clean energy and prevent many Californians from helping to make our system more robust to climate change," said Susannah Churchill, western senior regional director for Vote Solar. This political advocacy group promotes renewable energy adoption.
The program was started in California in 1995 to encourage more households to adopt solar power. It was effective. California currently has 1.3 million solar systems on residences, significantly more than any other state, according to the solar industry. This number will only increase since, beginning in 2020, all newly constructed homes in California must include solar panels.
However, as the cost of adding solar panels fell, so criticized the scheme. According to the three major utilities, the existing system permits solar consumers to sell their excess energy back into the grid for a profit. They argue that more has to be done to ensure that solar customers, most of whom still rely on utility electricity when the sun goes down, pay for all sections of the energy infrastructure they use.
Many expenditures unrelated to energy generation are included in power tariffs, such as transmission, distribution, and even wildfire control efforts. When solar families pay considerably reduced — or none — power bills, they contribute less to those things. That implies that more of the expense is borne by other customers, who are frequently homes and renters who lack the financial resources to install solar.
The state estimate the cost to be up to $3 billion. The solar industry disputes that figure, claiming that it fails to account for the savings for everyone when utilities build fewer power plants and transmission lines as a result of increased home solar.
The CPUC's plan would still enable solar home users to sell extra energy to power providers but at a far lower cost. Solar users would also have to pay a grid charge based on how many kilowatts of electricity they produce; most residences would pay between $40 and $50.
The fees aren't as high as the utilities had hoped. Ari Vanrenen, a Pacific Gas & Electric spokeswoman, termed the idea a "move in the right way to improve California's outmoded rooftop solar program." She did, however, imply that the utility — the state most significant — would want to see regulators impose greater rates on rooftop solar consumers, although she declined to elaborate.
According to Southern California Edison, the idea would ease the burden on non-solar users. According to spokesman Anthony Wagner, San Diego Gas & Electric declined to comment, citing a need for additional time to evaluate the idea.
According to CPUC Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves, the adjustments are intended to create equity while ensuring that the financial rewards remain substantial enough to encourage individuals to adopt solar. Regulators also recommended establishing a $600 million fund to assist low-income families in purchasing solar and energy storage.
The additional tariffs would be phased in over four years and apply to new solar consumers. People who already have solar panels in their homes would not use the new scheme until their solar panels had been in place for 15 years. However, they would immediately switch to the new tariff structure if they took advantage of a $3,200 incentive to develop energy storage systems.
According to the CPUC, residential rooftop solar decreases demand on the electric grid by up to 25% during the day. However, California's peak residential energy consumption is between 6 and 9 p.m., when the state relies heavily on fossil fuels to operate the electricity infrastructure.
The CPUC's proposal encourages customers who currently have solar panels to convert to storage by hiking electricity tariffs during peak nighttime hours. It would also let anyone with rooftop solar add panels capable of supplying up to 150 percent of the power they regularly use. According to CPUC Commissioner Guzman Aceves, this would encourage consumers to convert to electrical products or buy electric cars that can be charged at home.
"How do we go from a program about distributed solar — collecting the light — to a program about a period when the sun is down?" Guzman Aceves explained. "That is the goal of this reform."
However, the solar industry has cautioned that rising costs will deter people from choosing solar in the first place, according to Bernadette Del Chiaro of the California Solar and Storage Association, which represents 700 firms in the field. "If you raise the cost of solar, you raise the cost of the battery." "It's really that simple," she explained.
The California Public Utilities Commission commissioners have the option of revising the plan before voting on it early next year. @via US news.