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Residents, advocates heated over California regulators’ proposal that would reduce solar energy incentives for homeowners

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), is proposing major changes to the state's Self-Generation Incentive Program for rooftop solar. Both customers who have invested to generate solar power a home, and advocates are taking a stand against regulators' plan.

CPUC said in a press release on December 13, the proposal is part of "ongoing actions to evolve decarbonization incentive efforts to meet the state’s groundbreaking clean energy goals." The proposal "would revise current Net Energy Metering (NEM) rules and create a Net Billing Tariff that balances the needs of the electric grid, the environment, and consumers."

CPUC added that the proposal "determines that NEM must be modernized to incentivize customers to install storage paired with rooftop solar to help California meet its net peak shortfall and ensure grid reliability. The Proposed Decision adopts more accurate price signals that will promote greater adoption of customer-sited storage, which will help California decrease its dependency on fossil fuels during the early evening hours, when the sun is down and energy demand is high. The proposal also includes a bill credit for Net Billing customers to ensure
customers can pay for a solar plus storage energy system in 10 years or less through electric bill
savings. The bill credit is designed to phase out while helping the solar and storage market continue
to grow."

The proposal will be on the CPUC’s January 27, 2022 Voting Meeting agenda. Regulators are currently accepting public comment regarding the proposal.

Palm Springs resident, Mark Ward, is one of many opponents to the proposal. He told News Channel 3 he installed solar panels at his home because of the incentives, and noted "solar is not cheap to put in," but he felt it was the right decision considering California's pursuit of a clean renewable energy future. He said the rebates offered caused him to sign up "as soon as he could."

Ward said going solar has made an impact on his pocket book, and noted his "electric bill this past month was $2." Solar energy customers, like Mark, get credit on their utility bill for selling extra energy to a utility – in his case Southern California Edison. However, he noted his electric bill is more expensive throughout the year due to the geographic location of his home, which has mountains behind it. During the colder months, Mark explained his home does not get as much direct sunlight as others throughout the Coachella Valley. “During the winter, which happened last year, since I don’t have batteries I only get solar when there’s sun and I'm using my electricity for heating in the middle of the night so my bill might be higher in December than it was in August.”

Ward explained that he pays a monthly bill to Southern California Edison, whose charge includes the delivery of electricity, transmission, distribution, and other fees. He also gets billed once a year by Desert Community Energy for the generation of electricity. Ward said the first time he received that bill is was around $700.

However, what he is accustomed to typically paying for electricity could all change in the new year. State regulators are looking to swap the current system, Net Metering, for Net Billing. The new system would essentially reduce rebate payments to rooftop solar customers. CPUC said it seeks to incentive the use of storage, in the form of batteries, to "provide more value to the electric grid.” The Commission added that the change would be more equitable for everyone. However, solar advocates disagree and don't approve of the current proposal and believe it only benefits utilities.

President of Hot Purple Energy, Nate Otto, said “it’s just another ploy for them to keep paying their shareholders 11%.” He added, "so the utilities have now used economic justice as an argument to get rid of rooftop solar. Obviously the utilities want to be in control of the power, so they want utility-scale solar, they want to plow out the deserts, put big transmission lines, that we the taxpayers and the ratepayers pay for, and then sell us back the power that we already paid for."

Otto said while Hot Purple Energy does "twice as much storage" than any other company in the valley, "storage is not for everybody." He stressed that for the past decade, California has been trying to get "a good distributed grid." Otto said if Texas had a distributed grid, it could have avoided deadly power outages in February caused by severe winter weather that left 4.5 million without power over several days, and killed more than 100 people.

For Mark Ward, the idea of incentives in exchange for adopting storage is appealing, but he explained, “if I could have storage and it wasn’t a physical look that affected the HOA here I would definitely look into it.” He said cost is also a factor. A typical battery costs $10,000, and it's not guaranteed a homeowner would only need to purchase one to both power their home and generate enough energy to be stored.

Ward said he has questioned if it "would make sense to have storage if you have so much electricity you’re generating from the solar panels and if you’re using it all for your air conditioning, and you’re not charging your batteries, than that would be an issue on spending the money.”

He added, "it seems like California is going towards more solar and I think you would wan to do everything you can so people want to get involved with it." He said the CPUC's proposal "just seems to be taking a step backward."

Stay with News Channel 3 for more developments on this story.

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Jennifer Franco

Jennifer Franco is the weekend anchor/weekday reporter for KESQ News Channel 3

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