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California regulators want more information about solar power

San Diego's skyline is shown in this undated photo.
Milan Kovacevic
San Diego sky in this undated photo.

State regulators are taking the unusual step of asking for more information before the California Public Utilities Commission rewrites the state’s solar market rules.

The move comes five months after the first proposal to revamp the solar marketplace was met with stiff opposition last December. The CPUC subsequently shut down the Net Energy Metering (NEM) process in January, saying it needed more time to review the situation.

In an unusual move, an administrative-law judge formally reopened the record on Monday to accept more comment on three topics.

The California Public Utilities Commission wants more feedback about a glide path to transition solar owners from the existing NEM tariff to new lower rates. This covers the value of electricity generated by homeowner photovoltaic systems.

The regulators also asked for more input on Non-Bypassable Charges. Those are fixed fees aimed at reimbursing utilities for fixed costs linked to maintaining the electrical grid.

And they want information on Community Distributed Energy Resources, solar programs aimed at low-income customers living in disadvantaged communities.

Regulators are trying to balance the need for utilities to stay profitable with the need to expand solar power in order to help meet the state’s clean energy and carbon reduction goals.

“Is California going to continue to see solar grow, accelerate the adoption of storage and get closer to our clean energy goals, or are we going to dial everything back?” asked Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar and Storage Association.

All of the worst parts of the December proposal are still on the table, according to Del Chiaro, including the prospect of a solar tax levied on homeowners who have invested thousands to put systems on their roofs.

“The public utilities commission, on the bright side, is acknowledging this is a very important decision, especially in light of all the current events, and that they have to get it right,” Del Chiaro said. “So, they’re taking the time to get it right. They’ve reopened the record to accept more comments, more data. More information.”

San Diego Gas and Electric has repeatedly declined opportunities to comment on the issue. Earlier this month, the company said only that it looks forward to a decision from the CPUC.

The utility backed group Affordable Energy for All encouraged the commission to fix the cost shift sooner rather than later.

“We mean eliminating the unfair cost burden NEM imposes on non-solar customers who are disproportionately from disadvantaged communities,” said Kathy Fairbanks, a spokesperson for the group. “While we support the Commission carefully considering reform options, every single day that goes by without NEM reform imposes more cost burden on non-solar customers.”

Regulators will accept additional comments to be added to the record until the end of June.

The earliest they could take action would be during a July meeting.

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