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CA utilities commission hears from public angry about upcoming solar panel rate change

People from across California called into the state's public utilities commission meeting on Thursday to urge the commission to reverse a change to the rate new solar panel customers will get by giving their excess energy to the power grid.

San Diego (CN) — Dozens of people spoke out during a California Public Utilities Commission meeting on Thursday, urging the commission to rethink a rule change that will decrease the incentives new solar panel owners will get for giving their excess energy back to the grid. 

“I’m speaking today to implore you to delay the implementation of your N.E.M. 3 decision until you resolve the issues raised by environmental groups,” said a member of the public calling in from San Diego, who went on to say that climate change is reeking havoc all across California, and that “rooftop solar is the proven clean energy solution to addressing this crisis."

The meeting was remote, with commission members all on Zoom and the public calling in to comment. 

N.E.M. refers to net energy metering, a tariff created for people with solar panels which allows those people to give the excess energy they create and don’t need back to the larger energy grid. For that, customers are given credit on their electrical bills.

In December, the utilities commission passed a motion to update the tariff that bolsters incentives provided by the federal government from the Inflation Reduction Act for solar and battery storage, adding more electricity bill credits to people who adopt solar and solar battery storage in the next few years, including low-income people and people living on Native American nations, and most controversially, changing the rate at which people who newly install rooftop solar panels.

The utilities commission describes the rates as encouraging “electricity use when it is most beneficial for grid reliability,” and that “these rates have significant differences between peak and off-peak prices to incent battery storage and load shifting from evening hours to overnight or midday hours.”

Public commentators at Thursday’s meeting, and the environmental advocacy group the Center for Biological Diversity, describe the new rates as the commission bending to the whims of for-profit utility companies, and making it even harder for people to install rooftop solar panels, especially in low-income communities, communities of color, and communities affected by environmental justice issues. 

A paper released by the Center for Biological Diversity entitled “Rooftop-Solar Justice: Why Net Metering is Good for People and the Planet and Why Monopoly Utilities Want to Kill It,” describes rooftop and community solar projects, or “distributed solar development,” as existential threats to for-profit utility companies.

“To combat the climate emergency and pervasive energy inequity, we need to maximize distributed solar development,” the paper states. “NEM already exists in many states and is a key policy driver to expand distributed solar."

A letter submitted to the commission by a collective of 165 educational, public health, conservation, faith, energy, community, youth, environmental and climate justice organizations said the commission's decision to slash by 75% to 80% the credit that new solar adopters receive for sharing their extra solar energy with their neighbors on the grid "makes solar less affordable for millions of working people, businesses, churches, schools, farms, and community service institutions."

“Other states and localities that implemented similar changes saw solar adoptions drop by half or more. There is no reason to believe the outcome in California will be any different,” the letter states.

People who already have solar panels installed will still receive the same 100% tariff rate, the new rule only affects people who install solar panels after the new rule is implemented in April. In January, the Center for Biological Diversity, Protect Our Communities Foundation and the Environmental Working Group, filed an appeal challenging the rules change.

Roger Lin, an attorney for the Center of Biological Diversity, and a member of the Disadvantaged Communities Advisory Group for the utilities commission and the California Energy Commission, said that Thursday's meeting was the last before the new rule is implemented. He added that since the commission has yet to set a date to hear their appeal, the groups hoped to sway the commission to respond to the appeal earlier, before it goes into effect, by bringing out as many people as possible to speak at the commission’s meeting.   

“Crickets, unfortunately,” Lin said about the meeting, as members of the commission did not respond to comments made by the public.

Lin said they would continue to wait for the commission to respond to their appeal. The next step would be taking the commission to the state court of appeals. 

“We should fix this before we have to go to court,” Lin said.   

Categories / Consumers, Energy, Environment, Government

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