California PUC decision on net-metering warmly received by solar industry

Last week California’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) took steps on two important solar issues that will help ensure the state’s vibrant solar industry will continue into future years. It clarified rules on net-metering changing how utilities calculate the amount PV in their grid. The action was considered a good move by the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSIA).

Under the new net-metering ruling utilities in California will have to source 5 percent of their aggregated customer peak demand via distributed generation, like solar installed on California homeowner’s rooftops. Utilities were required to do so previously, but calculated the amount they needed to incorporate using different formulas, according to CPUC. “Prior to today's decision, electric utilities interpreted "aggregate customer peak demand" to mean the coincident system peak demand, or the highest demand from all customers at any one time,” it said.

“The interpretation that utilities were operating under would have had net metering ending sometime in the next year or so. With the interpretation that they arrived at gives a new lease on life to net metering for probably several more years,” said Les Nelson, CALSEIA’s interim executive director. The change means the state will require about 5.2 gigawatts of distributed energy into the state’s grid. That’s up from about 2.4 gigawatts. The new ruling clarified how utilities had to account for the amount of distributed generation that they brought onto their grid.

“Had the PUC, not acted last week to interpret the definition of how much net metering is allowable under state law it would have been an issue for photovoltaics but would the PUCs interpretation of the existing law,” Nelson said. “Most people who are in the PV business are celebrating today because that [ruling] is a big deal for photovoltaics. It's really important to have net metering,” he said.

To help ensure that net metering doesn’t put rate-payers at risk of having electric bills go up, the program is set to expire on Jan.1, 2015. That’s unless CPUC extends or implements a new program. The state is being more wary of how it approves investments in solar as incentives. “The CSI [i.e., California Solar Initiative] PV program has pretty much depleted the funding. There's still al of business going on, but a very large percentage of it is leasing solar PV systems these days,” Nelson said.