Solar vs. Utilities: Round Two

PG&E asks California Public Utilities Commission to boost charges for solar customers

Back Bloomberg Sep 1, 2015 By Mark Chediak

The battle between rooftop solar and utilities is moving into California’s statehouse.

While the two sides have aligned to support rooftop solar’s inclusion in a new state goal of getting half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, they’re now clashing over how much panel owners should be paid for power. The feud has grown so contentious that small solar’s lobbyists have dropped their bid to be included in the state goal and are asking lawmakers in their biggest U.S. market to instead protect payments for panel owners.

The move marks a shift in focus for a fast-growing industry that has faced pushback from large-scale solar developers who’ve tried to exclude their small counterparts from California Governor Jerry Brown’s clean energy goals. The new lobbying effort underscores the growing importance of another battle with utilities over payments that also threaten to undermine their business model.

Utilities PG&E Corp., Edison International and Sempra Energy’s San Diego Gas and Electric have asked the California Public Utilities Commission to cut payments and boost charges to new residential solar customers. They’ve said the rate structure known as net metering needs to change to ensure that solar panel owners are paying for their fair share of power grid maintenance.

Small solar’s lobbying efforts are in direct response to the utilities’ proposals, said Susan Glick, senior manager of public policy of installer Sunrun Inc.

“California’s investor-owned utilities have submitted extreme anti-solar proposals at the CPUC,” said Glick, speaking on behalf of the Alliance for Solar Choice, a solar rooftop advocacy group that includes Sunrun and SolarCity Corp. “The rooftop solar industry is asking for legislative action to restore market certainty and ensure the continuation of net metering.”

The current system forces customers who don’t own solar to pay a disproportionate share of the costs, PG&E said. The company’s proposal will still allow for rooftop solar to grow and yield bill savings, the utility said.

Legislation passed two years ago requires the state utilities commission to develop new net-metering rules by the end of this year.

With assistance from James Nash in Los Angeles