California Legislation is a Slam Dunk for Solar Industry

Changes in net metering are coming!

California Gov. Jerry Brown will have his work cut out for him as the Senate and the State Assembly have both recently sent him solar-friendly bills.

State lawmakers recently approved A.B. 327, a bill that would lift the net metering cap, which would be a success story for the solar industry if approved. However, to accommodate for the this provision, the bill also would give regulators the ability to administer fixed charges or no more than $10 on monthly power bills beginning in 2016, according to Bloomberg.

“This bill allows state regulators to make the most significant reforms to residential electric rates since the energy crisis,” said Matt Freedman, staff attorney with the Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group that supports the legislation.

The Sierra Club has called the $10 fixed charge, “excessive and unnecessary,” a fee solar advocates fear won’t be offset by solar production. However, it appears the fee was a worthy-enough bargaining chip with California’s largest investor-owned utilities – Edison International, Sempra Energy and PG&E – who supported the bill, to save net metering. If signed into law by the governor, the California Public Utilities Commission would be endowed with the ability to require utilities to purchase more than 33 percent of their power from renewable sources such as solar energy. And regulators will be able to remove the cap on net metering.

The power crisis in California in 2000 and 2001 caused lawmakers to  restrict the CPUC from raising rates, restrictions that are amended in this bill. 

Another Bill Goes to the Governor

Sen. Lois Wolk’s​ (D-Davis) S.B. 43 was approved and sent to Gov. Brown and – if signed – would create one of the largest programs for individuals, businesses and other entities to invest in shared residential or commercial solar installations, ClimateWire reported.

“S.B. 43 will allow the millions of Californians who cannot install their own solar unit, windmill, or other renewable power generation system to obtain renewable energy through their utility,” Wolk said in a statement. “The bill will create thousands of jobs and encourage more investment in an important sector of our state’s economy, while helping the state to meet its renewable energy goals.”

Not only will people be able to own a section of a solar array, but this would allow investment in enough energy to power 100,000 homes, up to 600 megawatts of renewable energy – 100 MW of which would be slotted for residential customers. Vote Solar estimated that up to 20,000 ratepayers could participate in investing in the projects at 5 kilowatt shares, however municipalities and businesses – even the military – are eligible to invest. The measure it particularly powerful for the large renting population. Now, anyone living in an apartment can supplement their electricity bill each month regardless if the is a solar installation on the building or not. The CPUC will need to decide which projects qualify, as well as how and to what extent invested ratepayers would benefit. However, Susannah Churchill, a policy advocate for Vote Solar, thinks the policy is a game changer – aligning with other solar advocate opinions.

“[The measure is] an incremental step forward to make sure that there are ways that people who otherwise don’t have access to localized solar can get access, and can get credit for it, so that’s good,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. “It started out as a different bill that was much more aggressive, and then it became clear that it wouldn’t get out [of the Assembly], so it became a smaller bill over time. But it’s still a valuable bill.”