The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which coordinates California’s solar incentives programs through the California Solar Initiative, said earlier this week that residential solar incentives in an increasing number of utility service areas are reaching fulfillment. And the solar industry and its supporters, like the Vote Solar Initiative say that’s a good thing. But another issue may rear its ugly head soon, the fulfillment of net metering requirements.
On Feb. 25, CPUC said that both Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) have fully committed the residential portion of their residential rebate programs under the state law—as long as everything is built out. And while you might think solar advocates would be worried about the loss of those markets, they’re praising the program. The Vote Solar Initiative said it’s a milestone that signals a “new phase of solar energy growth, affordability for low- and middle-income Californians.”
"This is a major milestone for solar," said Vote Solar Policy Advocate Susannah Churchill. "The California Solar Initiative was designed to do something remarkable: achieve scale and lower costs to make rooftop solar a real and growing part of the state's energy landscape. Supported by smart policy, the solar industry has given Californians a cost-effective alternative to buying power from the grid."
The rebate programs, which the state’s three main utilities—Southern California Edison (SCE), SDG&E and PG&E—were required to offer, have stepped down as different levels of solar were integrated by each utility, from $2.50 per watt in 2007, to 20 cents per watt as the final, tenth rebate level. The drops in rebate levels anticipated the lowered cost of solar as well. Churchill predicted that even without the incentive California’s homeowners will continue to invest in solar because it still makes economic sense. "Now that our state has successfully built this new energy industry, it's increasingly important that we make sure energy consumers can continue to choose solar without unnecessary red tape or utility barriers," She said. "All Californians benefit from more rooftop solar."
At this point, PG&E has completed the tenth and final step for both its residential and commercial rebate programs, SDG&E has completed the final step of its residential program and is in the eighth step of its commercial program and SCE is close behind, according to Vote Solar. The entire program was estimated at $2.2 billion and largely helped low and middle income households become the driving force behind residential solar energy growth in California.
While the fulfillment of the rebate programs is seen as a good thing, however, a secondary issue may soon arise. The state’s utilities are required by law to source 5 percent of their solar power from distributed sources. And now that the rebates are ending those utilities are closer than ever to meeting those goals. After which they don’t have to integrate more customer-sited generation.
To help change that more legislative action is needed and last week the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) released a new report, Blueprint for the Development of Distributed Generation (DG) in California, advocating for more distributed generation in California in coming years. Among other things, it advocated for getting rid of the net-metering limits, allowing more people to go solar.