Net metering is under attack in California and elsewhere around the country. In California, critical regulatory decisions will be made soon that will determine whether solar energy will continue to be a financially viable alternative for homeowners. We encourage consumers to voice support for solar at this critical moment.
Encouraging Californians to go solar matters to the health of our environment. Solar energy is clean, green energy, without the high environmental price of burning fossil fuels, extracting natural gas through ‘fracking,’ or mucking around in the mess of nuclear energy production and long-term storage of nuclear waste. Solar energy is ahuge water saver as well. And, the solar industry provides living-wage green jobs.
Realizing all of these much-needed environmental and economic benefits of solar requires consumers to voluntarily make the choice to go solar. Net metering is what makes solar a financially viable choice for many consumers. Thus, net metering matters to us all.
In a nutshell, net metering allows solar energy customers to feed their excess solar production back in to the grid, selling this power to utility companies such as Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). On sunny days, especially in the summer months, solar energy customers can often watch their energy meters run backwards.
Selling this excess energy to PG&E helps owners of net metered homes make up for the cost of energy they purchase from PG&E to power their homes at night, and at times when there is less solar energy produced, such as during the winter months.
In recent years, the interests of net metering customers in California have been well protected. Net metering fared well because of its public popularity, solar industry support, and its effectiveness in encouraging Californians to go solar.
California’s Governor Jerry Brown has been a vocal supporter of net metering, along with consumer and pro-solar organizations, including the California Solar Energy Industries Association(CALSEIA), of which Mendocino Solar Service is a member.
How effective net metering can be in encouraging consumers to go solar has everything to do with the rules. For example, does a utility ‘have to’ allow consumers to use net metering. And, how much is a utility required to compensate homeowners for energy they sell back?
In California, the rules on how net metering works are set by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC). The CPUC traces its origin back to the late 1800’s, when public concern over the unchecked power of railroad interests led to the establishment of the regulatory Railroad Commission. Today, the CPUC is charged with regulating California’s investor-owned utility companies.
PG&E is one of the utility companies that the CPUC regulates. Unfortunately, PG&E, along with other utility companies, is fighting to reverse current protections on net-metering. They want solar powered customers to pay for using the power grid. They also want to find ways to limit the amount of reimbursement they are required to give to net metered customers who sell excess energy to PG&E.
In the words of Bernadette Del Chiaro, Executive Director of California Solar Energy Industries Association, California’s solar supporters are engaged in “an historic fight to save net metering and California’s rooftop solar market.”
Similar anti-net metering attacks are happening in other states, such as Arizona and Ohio.
A recent article by Joby Warrick for the Washington Post states:”the [utility] industry and its fossil-fuel supporters are waging a determined campaign to stop a home-solar insurgency that is rattling the boardrooms of the country’s government-regulated electric monopolies.”
Warrick goes on to explain that: “The campaign’s first phase—an industry push for state laws raising prices for solar customers—failed spectacularly in legislatures around the country, due in part to surprisingly strong support for solar energy from conservatives and evangelicals in traditionally “red states.” But more recently, the battle has shifted to public utility commissions, where industry backers have mounted a more successful push for fee hikes that could put solar panels out of reach for many potential customers.”
It’s important to note that any future rule changes with how net metering works will probably not immediately impact those who are currently using net metering, as they are expected be ‘grand-fathered’ in under current provisions for 20 years. However, all consumers are encouraged to vocalize their support for net metering.
We encourage net metering supporters to call the CPUC and let them know your views. The CPUC toll-free phone number is 800-848-5580.