Solar Panels

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), center, helps as SolarCity employees Jarret Esposito, left, and Jake Torwatzky install rooftop solar panels on a south Denver home in 2010. San Mateo, Calif.-based SolarCity operates in 19 states. (Ed Andrieski / Associated Press)

By Ivan Penn
September 26, 2015

Tired of growing electricity bills, Miguel Espinoza decided to turn to the sun, rather than the grid, for power.

The Inglewood resident signed in March with solar leasing giant SolarCity to fix his electric bills at $130 a month — down from the $250 to $300 he had been paying.

Those savings, however, would eventually evaporate if state regulators approve proposals from California utilities to charge solar users more for their connection to the grid.

“This thing would be worthless to me,” Espinoza said.

Existing rooftop solar customers would receive some exemptions from the net-metering changes for 20 years after they installed their systems. But their costs still could rise because of separate regulatory changes, already enacted, that allow higher rates for users who buy small amounts of electricity from the grid.

For new purchases of rooftop solar, the utility proposals could wipe out the potential savings on power — the main incentive for buying the systems.

Lyndon Rive, chief executive of SolarCity, describes a “catastrophic” future for rooftop solar if the California Public Utilities Commission approves the proposals, which are set for hearings to start Oct. 5.

At issue is the practice of net metering, in which utilities credit solar users for surplus power their systems create, which gets fed back into the grid for use by other customers. Solar users are credited at the same rate they would pay the utility for electricity.

Utility proposals call for crediting solar users at about half the current rates. Utilities would also charge monthly fees, based on the size of a homeowner’s solar system.

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