California PUC decision is a big win for solar

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The sun will continue to shine on the solar industry in California. Utility regulators there voted this week to retain retail rate net metering for solar customers. While there will be some changes to the state’s net metering policies, the vote is seen by most as a victory for California’s rooftop solar customers and businesses.

In a close 3-2 vote, regulators agreed to allow utilities to charge a one-time $75 to $150 interconnection fee and to charge solar customers a small additional fee that other users pay toward offsetting the cost of programs for energy efficiency improvements and for low-income customers. Net metering will also be based on time of day use.

Existing solar customers are exempt from the policy changes.

Under the new regulations, “solar customers have to pay more,” Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity, told the New York Times. “But it’s still a viable solution and it will still allow for a growth market in the state, and at the same time provide more benefits to the grid.”

That’s a positive statement from the leader of the country’s largest rooftop solar company. SolarCity announced earlier in the month that it would pull out of Nevada completely and had laid off 550 workers there following decision from the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to reduce net metering benefits from the retail rate of about 10 cents per kilowatt hour down to the wholesale rate of about 2 cents. That decision applies to existing solar customers as well as new ones.

California regulators swung in the opposite direction. The decision there is expected to continue to encourage solar industry growth in the state with more rooftop solar installations than any other.

Utility companies argued the decision, saying net metering at this rate will cost non-solar customers as much as an additional $300 a year by 2025.

Solar industry and clean energy advocates applauded the decision as a thoughtful one that goes beyond a utility monopoly vs. solar debate to a solution for creating a more sustainable grid, which is why regulators chose a plan that emphasized time-of-day rates.

“Our course is not for the rooftop solar industry or for the utilities or the community clean energy aggregators,” Michael Picker, the utility commission president, said in a prepared statement. “Our decision today is another big step toward giving California consumers more choice, more control and more responsibility over energy and climate change issues.”