A big day for net metering in California's capitol

Solar energy supporters of all kinds gathered in Sacramento yesterday to send a clear message to legislators: we love net metering.

Some of California major utilities have been looking for ways to undermine California’s popular and successful net metering program, and we went to the capitol to encourage our policymakers to stand strong in its defense. 

Commonly known as the policy that allows your meter to spin backwards, net metering empowers energy consumers to generate their own clean, reliable electricity from the sun and get fair credit on their electricity bills for doing so.  Now in place in 43 states nationwide, net metering is one of the most important policy tools we have for encouraging customer investment in solar & other small-scale renewable resources.

Vote Solar's Annie Carmichael with Stan Greschner, Mardina Graham & Norm Graham of GRIDAlternatives visiting lawmakers.

Vote Solar helped organize this day of action at the state capitol, which kicked off with visits to key legislative offices in the morning, followed by a press conference and then ending with an educational hearing on the impacts of net metering co-chaired by net metering champions: Assemblymembers Nancy Skinner and Bob Wieckowski.

Throughout the day solar supporters shared their real life examples of how net metering made a tremendous positive impact on their own lives and communities. There was Norman Graham, a solar installation supervisor at GRID Alternatives and military veteran who found his new career in clean energy when other industries were downsizing. And Russell Freitas, Superintendent of the Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School District in Fresno County, who says savings from their net metered solar energy systems – $170,000 in year one and $9 million over the next 25 years – will help them bring music and arts programs back to their students.

At the press conference, Asm. Wieckowski discussed the benefits of net metering to Californians.

These are just a couple examples of stories that are being replicated all across the state. Net metering has played a central role in the impressive growth we’ve seen in California’s solar industry, which now employees over 25,000 people.  Net metering has helped drive $10 billion of private investment in the state’s clean energy industry, given thousands of homeowners, schools, water districts, industrial users, and cities control over their electricity bills, and installed 2 fossil power plants’ worth of valuable peak solar power generation that our utilities WON’T have to build and our ratepayers won’t have to fund.  Califonia’s cash-strapped public sector is forecast to save $2.5 billion over the next 30 years thanks to net metering with schools representing the majority portion with $1.5 billion that can be spent on education rather than electricity.

The utilities presented a very different message at the hearing; namely that net metering – while unequivocally successful in encouraging solar adoption – has come at significant cost to California’s non-solar adopters. Their sound bites were short and easy to understand, but not supported by real data.  Fortunately Assemblymember Skinner was there to remind the utilities and the audience that net metered energy generation accounts for less than 1% of all energy generation in California. We can’t be anywhere near a point where net metered customers are causing huge rate increases as the utilities would have us believe.  And in fact a recent 2012 independent analysis of the PG&E territory, the state’s largest solar market, found that net metering does not impose costs on non-net metered customers. By delivering valuable peak generation to their neighbors on the grid right when and where that power is needed, these net-metered systems are delivering real benefits to all California ratepayers.

Standing room only! The hearing room was packed to the brim with solar supporters.

There are certainly many questions that remain around the statewide impacts of net metering, especially over time as rooftop solar comprises a much larger portion of our state’s energy mix. As we have said in many forums, we are fully behind the Public Utilities Commission’s already planned efforts to re-examine the statewide costs and benefits of net metering to all ratepayers. This does not mean it’s time to go passing new laws that would duplicate the CPUC’s good work through a utility-tinged lens or otherwise undermine the net metering program. And it certainly doesn’t mean that it’s time to panic about ‘significant rate impacts’ of a program that’s still a tiny fraction of the electricity on our grid.

Vote Solar will continue to work with our partners to let legislators know that our state’s net metering policy has made California our nation’s solar leader. So please don’t mess with success!