ORIGINAL REPORTING: California’s Rooftop Solar Supports Questioned
Prominent Energy Experts and Terminator Blast CA’s Revised Support for Rooftop Solar
Herman K. Trabish, January 18, 2022 (California Current)
Editor’s note: The nation is watching what California will do about this.
Those calling for overhauling the California Public Utilities Commission’s proposed changes in rooftop solar’s Net Energy Metering now include a former federal energy commission chair and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The pending decision’s “discriminatory fixed fees on existing and new solar and storage customers are unprecedented,” wrote a group of 10 energy experts in a Jan. 17 letter to the CPUC, Gov. Gavin Newsom, and California Energy Commission. The commission proposal would increase the average solar plus storage customer’s charge to $116/month for utility service, they estimated.
That charge and a reduced per kWh credit to rooftop solar owners for generation exported to the grid would extend the investment’s payback period from the current seven to nine years to over 20 years, making solar plus storage “essentially unaffordable for just about all customers,” they said. “Most people agree that NEM needs to be reformed,” but this proposed decision “does grave injustice to the state’s ambitious goals for electrification and decarbonization,” added signatory Ahmad Faruqui, retired Brattle Group Principal and an economist-at-large. It offers a rebate for batteries but makes rooftop solar essentially out of reach financially, defeating the goal of growing storage to enhance system reliability.
Signatories also include former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Jon Wellinghoff and Jim Lazar, author of the handbook Electricity Regulation in the U.S. Schwarzenegger agreed with their arguments in a Jan. 17 New York Times editorial. While he was the state chief, California’s 10-year “Million Solar Roofs” initiative was launched, kicking off California’s rooftop solar boom.
California leads the nation in distributed solar, which has reached 1.3 million rooftop solar systems and over 10,000 MW of generation, but this achievement “is now under threat,” Schwarzenegger warned. The new fixed charges are essentially a “solar tax” discouraging the progress it claims to support. But he also welcomed proposed incentives to encourage adding batteries to existing and new solar installations and proposed funding of installations for low-income and disadvantaged communities.
A CPUC-ordered study found the existing NEM “disproportionately harms low-income customers” and a January 2021 Lookback Study showed cost shifts to all customers, wrote CPUC Administrative Law Judge Kelly Hymes in her decision. This proposed decision meets Assembly Bill 327’s mandate to protect both rooftop solar growth and avoid cost shifts to other customers, she concluded…
The pending NEM is a “massive” shift of system costs from low income non-solar owning customers to high income solar owners, argued University of California Energy Institute at Haas Director and Professor of Business Administration and Public Policy Severin Borenstein, a member of the California Independent System Operator Board of Governors, in support of the proposed decision. Rooftop solar is a “much more costly way to provide renewable energy, creates less value for the grid than alternatives, and the current NEM “is a very bad way to subsidize it,” Borenstein added… click here for more