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Is there hope of finding middle ground on California’s rooftop solar policy?

Jeff St. John, CANARY MEDIA

Utility regulators are under heavy pressure to change their net-metering proposal — but there’s little agreement on what should result.

The Sierra Club’s new compromise proposal also addresses the issue of the roughly 1.3 million customers who already have rooftop solar. Current policy allows these customers to remain on their preexisting net-metering rates — both the original net-metering regime and the ​“NEM 2.0” regime put in place in 2016 — for 20 years after they installed their systems.

The battle over how to update the policies on compensation for rooftop solar systems in California has only grown more heated in recent weeks. A few groups have proposed new compromises, but the two camps are still far from agreement. Meanwhile, California regulators have postponed their decision on the issue, so the debate will rage on for the time being.

The California Public Utilities Commission’s proposal last month to slash the value of energy exported to the power grid from future rooftop solar systems and impose monthly fees on customers who install them has sparked a massive public and political backlash.

Thousands of people have joined protests organized by the solar industry to demonstrate against the proposal over the past month, and polling indicates a hefty majority of California residents oppose it. Major political figures including U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) have publicly blasted the plan, painting it as a threat to the state’s push to decarbonize its electricity supply. Actors Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo have joined the fray on Twitter.

California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) said earlier this month that ​“changes need to be made” to the current CPUC proposal, but he didn’t offer specific fixes and said he won’t interfere in the commission’s decision-making process. Since December, two of the commission’s five members have departed and been replaced by Newsom appointees, including new commission President Alice Reynolds, a former senior adviser to Newsom’s administration.

Read more at https://www.canarymedia.com/articles/solar/is-there-hope-of-finding-middle-ground-on-californias-rooftop-solar-policy

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California proposes big changes to rooftop solar incentives

Sammy Roth, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

Walker Wright, vice president of public policy at San Francisco-based Sunrun, the nation’s largest rooftop solar installer, said in a written statement that Guzman Aceves’ decision would “impose the highest discriminatory charges on solar and energy storage customers in the U.S., putting rooftop solar and batteries out of reach for countless families in California just as more households are demanding that the state do more to combat climate change and provide them with reliable, sustainable energy.”

California officials want to slash payments for rooftop solar power while adding incentives for homes and businesses to install batteries, saying the changes will help the state achieve 100% clean energy in a way that keeps the lights on, prevents electricity rates from spiraling out of control and also encourages people to drive electric cars.

The proposal from Martha Guzman Aceves, one of five members of the California Public Utilities Commission, would revamp an incentive program called net energy metering that has helped the state become a national solar power leader, with more than 1.3 million rooftop and other small-scale systems installed. The solar industry and climate change advocacy groups have lobbied Gov. Gavin Newsom and his appointees on the utilities commission to keep the program’s basic tenets unchanged.

But in an interview, Guzman Aceves said net metering needs to evolve to reflect California’s changing energy needs. The Golden State’s power grid is increasingly flooded by solar energy during the afternoon but strained on hot summer evenings, when millions of people throttle up their air conditioners to cope with high temperatures made worse by the climate crisis.

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2021-12-13/california-proposes-big-changes-to-rooftop-solar-incentives

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California organisations warn of ‘ill-informed changes’ to net metering policy

Jules Scully, PV-TECH

A coalition of 347 organisations has warned that potential changes to California’s policy support for rooftop solar could set back climate change progress and harm low-income residents’ access to solar energy.

An open later sent by campaign group Save California Solar to state Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) calls on policymakers to keep solar affordable as the Newsom Administration considers changes to net energy metering (NEM), a policy that defines how solar users send energy back to and interact with the grid.

NEM allows customers with rooftop PV systems to receive a financial credit on their electric bills for any surplus energy fed back to their utility.

According to the coalition, proposals by California utilities “would drastically reduce the credit solar consumers receive for the excess energy they produce”. The group said: “We are concerned that ill-informed changes to net metering, such as slashing solar bill savings or imposing new fees on solar users, will set back California’s climate change and environmental justice goals.”

Read more at https://www.pv-tech.org/california-organisations-warn-of-ill-informed-changes-to-net-metering-policy/

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Governor Gavin Newsom’s office ‘micromanaged’ PG&E’s independent state regulators

Brandon Rittiman, ABC10

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office exerted control over a powerful state agency that is supposed to operate independently, “micromanaging” decisions big and small at the California Public Utilities Commission according to its former executive director.

“We do whatever the governor tells us to do, period,” former CPUC executive director Alice Stebbins said. “You don’t do anything without [Gov. Newsom’s] staff reviewing it or talking to you or approving it. And that’s the way it was.”

Internal CPUC documents obtained by ABC10 reveal the agency took direction from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and even submitted its work to the governor’s staff for multiple levels of “approval.”

The records show that on at least one occasion, the need to secure approval from Newsom’s office delayed CPUC business for a matter of days, frustrating the agency’s employees.

The documents were obtained as part of ABC10’s FIRE – POWER – MONEY investigation, which will examine how the state government under Gov. Newsom responded to PG&E’s crimes by offering the company financial protection.

Read more at https://www.abc10.com/article/news/local/abc10-originals/newsom-pge-cpuc/103-24f1c7ba-fd61-4015-9ee7-bc184ad405bc

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CPUC votes in favor of utility-developed solar despite rooftop market’s opposition

Billy Ludt, SOLAR POWER WORLD

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted unanimously to approve major modifications to the “Avoided Cost Calculator” (ACC) that deeply undercuts the value of rooftop solar on Thursday. The vote came after over 7,000 public comments were submitted to the commissioners protesting the modifications and after dozens of members of the public called to testify at the commission meeting.

The ACC is a model developed by E3, a consulting firm regularly used by utilities to put out research products biased against distributed energy generation, that is also under contract with the CPUC. The ACC measures utility avoided costs from customer solar — how much utility costs go down for every solar roof built in California. It is the state’s official “value of solar” calculator.

This year E3 and CPUC included major revisions that cut the value of rooftop solar in the 2021 calculator by about one-third the value in the 2020 version. The calculator has an additional 30 GW of utility-scale solar and storage going online by 2025.

“Rooftop solar is essentially crowded out by these new resources and its value is measured to be lower,” industry advocacy group Save California Solar stated in a press release. “The idea of 30 GW of utility-scale solar and storage being installed over the next four years is wildly out of step with reality.”
Continue reading “CPUC votes in favor of utility-developed solar despite rooftop market’s opposition”

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Op-Ed: Kryptonite needed for Community Choice super fee 

Erica Etelson, CALIFORNIA CURRENT
Last month, the California Public Utilities Commission kicked off what is expected to be a long and arduous process of reforming the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment. The PCIA is an ongoing fee that California investor-owned utilities impose on departing ratepayers. That is, those of us who switch to a Community Choice energy program or procure electricity from a Direct Access retailer must pony up money every month to compensate the private utilities for losses associated with stranded contracts they’ve entered (or claim to have entered) on our behalf.
Much to the surprise of community choice customers, the PCIA seems to have achieved immortality. Whereas the operating assumption was that this charge, approved last December, would ramp down and eventually disappear as stranded contracts expire, the opposite has occurred. Pacific Gas & Electric now projects that it will levy this charge on Marin Clean Energy customers until 2043.
The California Alliance for Community Energy is calling for the sun setting of the PCIA within three years of the launch of a community choice program and for the immediate cessation of the PCIA for low-income CARE customers. In our view, no amount of technocratic tinkering under the auspices of an agency as partial to the monopoly utilities as the CPUC will render the PCIA tolerable to community choice programs and their customers.
PG&E will collect an estimated $119 million in PCIA charges from community choice and direct access customers this year, nearly twice as much as last year thanks to the CPUC’s rubber-stamping of PG&E’s calculus. For community choice customers, this amounts to a line item on their monthly bill ranging from $1.00 to $29.00. To stay competitive with the incumbent monopoly utility, community choice agencies must offset their electricity rates by roughly the amount of the PCIA.
This means that community choice programs are losing millions a year in revenue that could otherwise be used for demand reduction and the development of renewable electricity projects.
Read more at: GUEST JUICE: Kryptonite Needed for Community Choice Super Fee | CA Current

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Solar Wins the Day at CPUC

Geoffrey Smith, CENTER FOR CLIMATE PROTECTION
The fate of rooftop solar has been a cliffhanger for the last few months.
On January 28, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted on the future of Net Energy Metering (NEM) and its impacts on rooftop solar in California.
The consequences of a ‘bad’ CPUC decision are proven. We need only look at rate decisions recently made in Nevada and Hawaii, which devastated the rooftop solar industry. Would California go the way of Nevada? Thankfully, that was not the outcome.
In a 3-2 vote, the CPUC helped secure a future of growth for rooftop solar by adopting a NEM successor tariff largely resembling the original tariff (or “rate structure”), that governs how rooftop solar generators are compensated for the energy they produce.
What does this mean for you, the rooftop solar generator? First and foremost, it means you will continue to be paid full retail rate (rather than a lower wholesale rate proposed by the utilities) for all of the power you produce and send to the grid. Additionally, no monthly fixed or transmission access charges were imposed, and only a ‘reasonable’ one-time fee will be charged for connection to the grid. Overall, the outcome was a big win for rooftop solar.
The Center for Climate Protection attended the CPUC session to show our support and bring to you a report of the day’s events.
Despite months – years, in fact – of aggressive lobbying and grassroots organizing from the solar industry and climate activists, the prevailing sentiment on January 28 was one of tension and uncertainty.
More than twenty audience members presented public comments from a variety of perspectives, almost all supporting strong NEM rules favoring rooftop solar. Only one spoke against such rule-making: The California Chamber of Commerce.
At the close of the public comment period, CPUC President Michael Picker opened the discussion among the commissioners. He noted that the proposed decision (PD) from December to extend NEM would give customers more choice as well as responsibility, and that the PD was moving in the right direction. He voted YES (1-0).
Commissioner Liane Randolph also spoke in defense of NEM, saying that the PD strikes the right balance in a complicated process. She voted YES (2-0).
Commissioner Catherine Sandoval had enthusiastically supported the PD leading up to the previous day’s amended proposal in which transmission access charges were removed. She said she could not support the proposal without those charges in place. She voted NO (2-1).
Commissioner Michael Florio largely echoed Sandoval’s comments, and voted NO (2-2). The tension in the room escalated as the 2-2 vote and ultimate decision moved to the last commissioner. ‘What if’ scenarios were playing out in everyone’s minds.
Commissioner Carla Peterman opened her remarks by acknowledging the wide range of views on the matter and endorsed the PD as moving in the right direction. She said she looked forward to working on the future of NEM, which the CPUC takes up again in 2019. And then she cast a YES vote for the 3-2 final vote in favor of NEM.
Rooftop solar lives to power our communities for another day! The mood in the room as the (mostly) rooftop solar supporters stood to leave the chamber was one of relief. This was a hard-fought battle over a complex set of issues governing an individual’s right to choose how they power their lives. But the real winner was the climate. With new certainty now established around rooftop solar rates, greenhouse gas reductions will accelerate. Go solar!
Source: http://climateprotection.tumblr.com/post/139125780367/solar-wins-the-day-at-cpuc

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It's all in the timing: California transitions to time-based net metering 

Alison Seel, SIERRA CLUB
January 28. Today, the California Public Utilities Commission adopted its final, hotly anticipated decision on the future of rooftop solar compensation in California. The Commission voted to keep net metering, allowing new rooftop solar owners to receive compensation for every kilowatt hour of energy they export to the grid at their retail rate.
The big change is that new solar customers will soon be required to be on a time-of-use rate, where electricity is more expensive to buy (and extra solar energy is more valuable to sell), at times of high electricity demand. New net metering customers will be required to start signing up under time-of-use rates as soon as the current net metering program is filled to capacity (expected to happen in six months to a year, depending on the utility).
Time-of-use-based net metering is a wise first step in the evolution of rooftop solar policy. As California takes bold and necessary steps toward a fully decarbonized power system, we’ll need to create a more dynamic relationship between electricity supply and demand. Today’s decision helps us achieve this goal: the simplicity and familiarity of net metering will keep rooftop solar expanding, while time-of-use rates incentivize net metering customers to save solar power for later in the day through adaptations both cutting-edge (battery storage and smart thermostats) and mundane (west-facing panels). This shift can reduce our evening reliance on gas-fired generation, decrease air pollution, and position rooftop solar as a tool to address, not exacerbate, the much-ballyhooed duck curve.
But this isn’t the end of the road. The Commission only narrowly approved the decision, with two Commissioners feeling it didn’t reduce solar compensation enough. The discussion made it clear that rooftop solar policy can and should evolve further, as we’re better able to quantify the locational value of power exports, and as we begin to harness the features of (soon-to-be-required) smart inverters. The Commission will reconsider the issue in 2019, with Commissioners suggesting they’d favor a shift to a model based on a set price for power exports.
Overall, it’s refreshing to see a time- and resource-intensive, high stakes debate result in a balanced outcome (we’re looking at you, Nevada). This decision models how states with high levels of rooftop solar penetration can begin aligning solar compensation with its value in a measured way. Tens of thousands of people weighed in, and in the end, rooftop solar in California is positioned to keep growing, bringing cleaner air, more jobs, and a more resilient power system to California.

Source: It’s All in the Timing: California Transitions to Time-Based Net Metering | Sierra Club

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Customers of clean energy programs hit with fee increase

Lizzie Johnson, SFGATE

PG&E and other big utilities also proposed cutting the amount of compensation that solar homeowners receive for excess electricity that they export to the grid.

The California Public Utilities Commission voted Thursday to allow a nearly 100 percent price increase on exit fees for customers leaving Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for green energy programs like CleanPowerSF and Marin Clean Energy, which will make those and similar programs more expensive.
Many of the programs — where local governments buy green electricity for their residents, while private utilities own and operate the electrical grid — will be undermined financially by the uptick in the charge, called the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment, their officials say.
“We are not surprised that the increase was approved,” said Marin Clean Energy spokeswoman Alexandra McCroskey. “We are disappointed. Our primary frustrations come from the fact that we are becoming almost liable for the market fluctuations for both ourselves and PG&E. If PG&E isn’t planning appropriately for people leaving for community choice aggregation programs, the PCIA will continue to increase. It’s poor planning.”
Read more at: Customers of clean energy programs hit with fee increase – SFGate

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PG&E’s huge profit from exit fee signals need for reform

Mark Leno & Francesca Vietor, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
No one disputes that an exit fee paid to utilities, if appropriately administered, can be a fair way to equitably reimburse existing electric customers when others leave for cleaner energy from programs such as Marin Clean Energy, Sonoma Clean Power, or forthcoming programs such as CleanPowerSF or Peninsula Clean Energy.
What is at issue is why the California Public Utilities Commission is not asking questions expected of an oversight body or engaging in a transparent public process in this important decision. We request that the state commission reject the PG&E proposal to double the exit fee when it votes on Thursday until the commissioners can audit PG&E’s proposed rate increase and revisit the fairness of the calculation of the fee, known as the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment.
Until that audit and public discourse has taken place, we propose that the commission temporarily cap any such increases requested by the utility. The commission should then convene a series of public workshops and attempt to create a fair and balanced process that provides equity for customers who choose to remain with PG&E and for those who choose a cleaner future through community choice aggregation programs.
If PG&E’s proposed increase to $13 from $6.70 a month is approved, it would stifle efforts of California cities to receive cleaner electricity and disproportionately charge higher fees to the poorest households. California cities and counties, energy advocates and environmental organizations are demanding that the commission enforce its own rate-making rules by taking the time to properly audit and discuss PG&E’s rate proposal.
Read more at: PG&E’s huge profit from exit fee signals need for reform