Solar Panels

Solar proponents have been rallying to block changes to rooftop solar costs. On Tuesday, state regulators proposed new fees for solar customers.

Ivan Penn
December 15, 2015

Rooftop solar panel owners could face new fees under a proposal issued Tuesday, but state regulators rejected several recommendations by utility companies that threatened the expansion of residential and commercial solar efforts.

Southern California Edison and the state’s other big investor-owned utilities had pushed to charge more for homes and businesses with rooftop solar panels to connect to the electric grid and use power from utilities when needed. The companies also advocated paying lower rates to panel owners who sold them their extra electricity.

Despite the utilities’ campaign, the California Public Utilities Commission largely backed the solar industry, which had said the power companies’ proposals could have devastated its business.

Under the PUC plan, new solar customers would face a one-time fee for connection to the electric grid. The commission estimates that the fee would range from $75 to $150 per solar customer.

In addition, rooftop solar customers would pay a fee of 2 cents to 3 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity used from the utility companies, no matter how much power their solar systems generate. This fee would amount to about $5 a month for the average solar user.

Utilities also would place new solar customers on time-of-use rates, which rise during periods of high electricity demand.

Existing owners are exempted from all the changes for 20 years from when they installed their solar systems and connected to the grid.

Sara Kamins, supervisor of the PUC’s customer generation program, said the proposed changes are designed to get rooftop solar owners to pay their fair share for maintaining the electric system while ensuring that the added fees don’t harm solar-panel owners.

The 2-cent to 3-cent fee, Kamins said, helps to pay for programs such as energy-efficiency efforts that benefit disadvantaged communities.

As for the connection charge — previously borne by all utility customers — “We think they can pay that fee without jeopardizing the economics of the installation,” she said.

The PUC will accept public comment on the proposed fees through mid-January and is expected to make a final decision at its Jan. 28 meeting.

At issue is the practice of net metering, in which utilities credit solar users for surplus power their systems create; that electricity 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.

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