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California Regulators Turn Off Plans To Levy Fee On Solar Power

The California Public Utilities Commission says the idea shouldn't be part of the utility's billion dollar plus rate hike request.

— The controversial rate proposal would've added $20 to $30 a month to the cost of a residential solar user's bill. The plan was roundly panned since it was revealed in October. That backlash spawned a protest at the dedication of SDG&E's Energy Innovation Center.

The whole idea of a special fee made no sense to Scripps Ranch resident Suha J. Kumar. She has solar panels on her home and she said the utility already charges her a transmission fee.

"Why do they need an extra? It's not as if sending them our already-produced electricity is costing them any money because the grid is already there," said Kumar.

SDG&E officials are sensitive to the negative reaction, but they said the current rate structure is broken and needs to be fixed.

"We're simply asking people who have solar on their roof to pay their fair share of the amount that they use our network grid, that everybody has paid for. They should be sharing those costs," said Stephanie Donovan, a spokeswoman for SDG&E. "Because actually when you think about it, a solar user uses that power network twice as much as a solar customer, both to export the power from their solar array and importing it back for their own use, later in the day for example when the sun isn't shining."

KPBS MIDDAY EDITION

Here's an October discussion about the solar fee issue on the KPBS Midday Edition Program

The removal of the fee from the utility's rate hike request doesn't kill the idea. SDG&E can re-submit that plan or something similar. The company has opened talks with stakeholders to discuss a more palatable solution.

Fifteen-thousand customers have rooftop solar arrays in San Diego County, according to Donovan. Solar energy supporter Pete Hasapopoulas said the utility needs to be more supportive of solar power because the privately owned solar arrays help the utility.

"SDG&E is not mentioning that the more rooftop solar we have, the less strain on SDG&E's grid and less need to build more infrastructure, and less need to build transmission lines to import energy from far away place," said Hasapopolous.

The removal of the fee from the utility's rate hike request dosn't kill the idea. SDG&E can re-submit that plan or something similar. The company has opened talks with stakeholders to discuss a more palatable solution.

San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob is a fierce critic of SDG&E. In a statement she released late Wednesday she said the commissioner "saw through the utility's distortions."

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