A decision from the California PUC today brought some welcome certainty to solar customers in the state. As you’ll recall, legislation passed last year, AB 327, removed a looming net metering suspension date and opened the door for the California Public Utilities Commission to uncap the successful crediting program altogether. As a first step in the implementation of AB 327, the CPUC was required by the end of this month to decide how long existing solar customers can keep receiving their current net metering benefits before they transition to the new program. We argued that changing the rules on these pioneering customers who have made a personal investment in solar that benefits all of us would not be fair.
Today, the CPUC issued a strong final decision that allows customers who net meter under the current program to keep the current rules for 20 years from the year they go solar. This rule applies to the state’s 200,000 existing IOU solar customers plus any other IOU customers who go solar before July 2017 or before their utility hits the current 5% program cap. With this decision, the Commission continues its proud tradition of standing strong for rooftop solar rights. California’s solar customers and businesses can now move forward with the certainty that their net metering benefits will stay consistent for twenty years after system installation. We applaud CPUC President Peevey, the Commission and Governor Brown for protecting these early solar adopters.
In the lead-up to today’s decision, utilities had continued their efforts to make rooftop solar a bad deal, lobbying the Commission to change the rules on these customers in as little as six years. Vote Solar was part of a coalition of organizations that asked Californians to speak up for rooftop solar in advance of the decision, and we were awed and inspired by an outpouring of public support that resulted in over 50,000 public signatures. Californians overwhelmingly want to build a healthier, more prosperous, more resilient solar-powered state, and the Commission heard that message loud and clear.
Today’s decision will protect customers and allow Californians to keep going solar in the near-term, but the battle is far from over. By the end of 2015, the Commission must decide what the rules will be for customers who net meter after July 2017 (and for existing customers after the twenty year transition period has expired). If the Commission continues to stand up to pressure from the utilities and designs a future net metering program that keeps it a good deal to go solar, we’ll have the long-term policy in place to truly make good on our solar potential. Some schools, farmers and other customers will need more than 20 years to recoup their initial investment in solar, which only underscores the importance of the PUC’s 2015 decision setting the rules for the future expanded net metering program.
During today’s vote, we appreciated Commissioner Florio’s comment that the discussion on the future of net metering should focus only on exports to the grid, given that customers have the right to reduce their onsite purchases of utility power in any way they choose. What happens behind the customer’s meter is nobody’s business but the customer’s! However, we were concerned to hear a Minnesota-style Value of Solar Tariff offered as a possible alternative to our existing net metering system. Californians deserve fair, predictable credit for the valuable power they export to the grid, and VOST is a far-from-perfect way to accomplish that objective. You can read about the drawbacks of the VOST approach in a post from earlier this week.
Currently, the Golden State has more than 2 GW of clean, local rooftop solar that is reducing the need for expensive and polluting utility infrastructure. Independent analysis from Crossborder Energy estimates that these ratepayer benefits will net out at $92 million annually when the current 5% program cap is reached. Two out of every three new rooftop solar installations are now happening in low- and middle-income communities, delivering savings and economic opportunity where it’s needed most. And all that private solar investment has put more than 47,000 Californians to work statewide, a number that is growing fast.
Californians want more rooftop solar, and Californians benefit from more rooftop solar. We look forward to working with the Commission through the next phase of the AB 327 process to ensure that Californians continue to receive full, fair credit for their valuable solar investment.