Go Solar California

Go Solar California! GREEN ENERGY – Anticipating a possible shift in solar energy regulations by the end of the year, solar advocates have stepped up their public lobbying campaign. In Northern and Central California, PG&E has proposed a sweeping change to savings and credit for solar customers returning power to the grid. The stake-holders have been battling intensely for attention since the summer, when the state’s three major utilities submitted proposals to the California Public Utilities Commission. The proposals would drive up solar costs for new customers, although existing customers would be grand-fathered into existing rates for 20 years.

PG&E estimates a typical new customer with a 3 kilowatt solar system would see their bill increase from $13 to $29 per month. The increase includes an additional monthly fee based on energy demand. Under the proposal, new solar customers would still save between 30 and 50 percent on their monthly bills.

Solar advocates for California solar installers say the proposals are similar to regulations that have decreased solar installation in other states. Advocates have organized protests across the state this month, including a rally in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Another rally is planned Thursday in Sacramento at a regularly scheduled PUC meeting.

Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association, said the PG&E proposal would substantially drive up costs for new solar customers and could double or triple the payback period for residential and commercial installations.

“It would kill the rooftop solar industry” she said. Solar industry leaders have assembled a coalition to oppose immediate changes to the rules. The affiliation ranges from farmers to environmentalists and advocates for affordable housing. Eddie Ahn, executive director of Brightline Defense, said Californians overwhelmingly support the expansion of solar power, even if it means subsidies to encourage installation in moderate and low-income communities. Nearly 90 percent of state residents feel more should be done to encourage rooftop solar power, according to a poll commissioned by the nonprofit Brightline and the solar industry association. PG&E spokeswoman Ellen Hayes said the utility is still offering strong incentives to new customers. “We are committed to solar 100 percent,” Hayes said. “We have been doing this for decades.”

The issue has leading solar companies concerned. Among the California solar companies, SunPower vice president Tom Starrs said in a statement that net metering has been a simple, popular policy that’s made California one of the leading solar markets in the world. With the additional possible loss of federal tax credits for solar, he said, “the concern is that the utility proposals will stall California’s thriving solar market.” The activity comes as PUC commissioners move into final deliberations. The PUC is expected to issue a preliminary decision in mid-November. A final ruling is due by the end of the year, and any changes are expected to take effect in mid-2016.


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