50,000 Californians Petition Regulators to Stand Strong for Rooftop Solar
Public Outpouring Urges Fair Treatment of Existing Solar Customers in Upcoming PUC Decision
SAN FRANCISCO—People with solar panels on their roofs and their supporters teamed up with solar advocacy and environmental groups to deliver more than 50,000 signatures urging the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to not change the rules on existing solar customers. Specifically, the petition asks the PUC to allow customers to continue under current net metering rules for at least thirty years.
David Levine, an East Bay resident who is in the process of going solar at his home, helped submit the heavy stack of petition names at today’s meeting of the PUC. “The state created policies to encourage me to install solar panels on my home, and now they are talking about changing the rules,” said Levine. “I’m proud that my solar system will help reduce the need for expensive power plants and utility infrastructure to power my neighbors’ homes and businesses. I invested my own money in those panels and expect the investment to result in financial savings.”
Levine was joined by Jim Happ, CEO of Labcon, a laboratory supplies and equipment manufacturer that has been headquartered in the North Bay since 1959. An 800-kilowatt (kW) solar energy system Labcon installed in 2011 meets almost one-third of the company’s power needs. “My business is one of thousands throughout California that have invested in solar in order to show clean energy leadership and to manage our utility bills,” said Happ. “We made the decision to go solar based on state rules that we expected to remain consistent for the lifetime of our solar energy systems. I hope we can count on the Commission to uphold those rules.”
Net metering gives solar customers fair, full credit on their utility bills for the excess clean power they deliver to the grid for use nearby. In place in 43 states, this simple billing arrangement is one of the most important state policies clearing the way for individual investment in solar. In California, the successful program has supported the installation of nearly 200,000 solar energy systems on homes, schools, businesses, and public buildings.
Legislation passed last year requires the PUC to consider new net metering rules for customers that install systems after July 2017. Existing customers expected to be able to use the current net metering rules as long as their panels produce electricity. Those customers will be able to keep using the current rules for a period of time that the PUC will soon determine. Solar and environmental advocates are calling for 30 years or more, commensurate with the expected lifespan of solar energy systems, while utilities want to change the rules for these customers in 6-12 years. The PUC has a March 31 deadline to make a decision.
The petition comes after a wave of other communications on this issue from the public to the PUC. Letters have been submitted from agricultural groups, school officials, business associations, solar energy companies, and others.
The agricultural letter stated: “Investment decisions were based on the NEM program structure that is premised on the terms for net-metered energy that existed in statute at the time these investments were made. The suggestion that this basic understanding of the NEM agreement could now change for existing investments is unfathomable to the participants and must be quickly remedied by the Commission.”
“Fair is fair and a deal is a deal,” said Brad Heavner, Policy Director for the California Solar Energy Industries Association. “Customers were given certain expectations and the state needs to hold up its end of the bargain.”
“Solar power enjoys enormous public support in California, as the messages delivered today show. The Commission should stand strong with solar customers and keep net metering rules consistent,” said Susannah Churchill, West Coast Regional Director for Vote Solar, one of the groups that circulated the petition.
“Solar owners trusted that their investment in going solar would lower their carbon footprint and their electricity bills,” said Michelle Kinman, Clean Energy Advocate for Environment California. “Changing the rules of the game would be unfair to current solar customers and could deter future solar investments, slowing progress towards California’s clean energy goals.”
Groups and companies that circulated the mass petition include the Vote Solar Initiative (Vote Solar), CREDO Action, the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA), the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Sierra Club, Environment California, and many solar companies. Many Californians signed the petition via CREDOmobilize.com.
San Francisco—School districts, ranchers, business associations and others sent a letter today to Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey and Governor Jerry Brown urging them to honor existing agreements with solar customers.
At issue is net metering, the program that allows a solar customer’s meter to run backward at times when solar panels are producing electricity that is not being consumed in the building. The customer is only billed for net electricity usage. The program has been a fundamental component in the decision to go solar for most solar customers.
“The state has stood behind Net Energy Metering for over a decade as a way to encourage our investments in clean energy,” the parties stated in the letter, adding, “We would feel wronged if the state changed the rules we agreed to.”
The letter was signed by the Los Angeles Business Council, the California Cattleman’s Association, the California Association of School Business Officials, and other businesses, organizations and districts.
Last year, the California Legislature passed a bill to revamp the state’s net metering program. The first decision by the PUC in implementing that bill is determining when the current net metering agreements will be transferred over to a new agreement that has not yet been defined. Gov. Brown has supported fair treatment for current net metering customers, but the PUC has not issued a ruling.
“A deal is a deal,” said Brad Heavner, Policy Director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association. “People went solar when the state encouraged them to do so, and the state needs to hold up its end of the bargain.”
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