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State Commission Approves Solar Energy Buy Back for Homeowners

Workers install a solar farm outside Sacramento, Calif. The state aims to att...

Photo by Sacramento Municipal Utility District

Above: Workers install a solar farm outside Sacramento, Calif. The state aims to attain half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

The state’s Pubic Utilities Commissioners narrowly approved new rules Thursday that will preserve net metering, a key part of state energy policy.

In a 3-2 vote, the commission approved a process that allows rooftop solar owners to continue selling electricity back to power companies.

The new rules, which continue the existing net metering structure, will ensure that net metering customers pay a bigger share of costs while encouraging a sustainable customer-sited renewable distribution generation program.

Thursday’s decision attempts to strike a balance between these requirements.

Utilities have argued that non-solar customers are subsidizing their solar-powered neighbors. The power companies were hoping for additional fees along with an end to the net metering subsidy.

Regulators rejected utility-backed efforts to make solar financially unattractive.

“Our course is not for the rooftop solar industry or for the utilities or the community clean energy aggregators. Our decision today is another big step toward giving California consumers more choice, more control, and more responsibility over energy and climate change issues. It’s a big step, but it’s only one of many,” CPUC President Michael Picker said.

Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association, said that the ever-dropping costs of solar equipment should offset the new fees.

"At the end of the day, going solar in California will remain a very good economic investment," Del Chiaro said, adding that Nevada and other states have raised fees on customers, pushing the solar industry out of the market.

"This has been a clear signal that California is building our grid in a different way," she said.

San Diego Gas & Electric officials were not pleased with the ruling.

“San Diego Gas & Electric strongly supports renewable energy, including rooftop solar, but also we strongly believe that the growth of rooftop solar should not penalize customers who do not own a home or are unable to afford or accommodate rooftop solar,” SDG&E said in a statement.

Solar energy proponents applauded the commission’s decision.

"With today's vote, the CPUC stood strong for progress, for innovation, and for the Californians they serve," said Susannah Churchill, West Coast regional director for Vote Solar. "This decision to uphold net metering was the result of a thorough Commission-led stakeholder process from the state that knows solar best, our nation's largest rooftop solar market by a long shot, and we hope other states will take note."

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