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Solar Wins the Day at CPUC

by Geoffrey Smith, CCP  |  February 11, 2016

The fate of rooftop solar has
been a cliffhanger for the last few months.

On January 28, the California Public Utilities Commission
(CPUC) voted on the future of Net Energy Metering (NEM) and its impacts on
rooftop solar in California.

The consequences of a ‘bad’ CPUC decision are proven. We
need only look at rate decisions recently made in Nevada and Hawaii, which devastated
the rooftop solar industry. Would California go the way of Nevada? Thankfully, that
was not the outcome.

In a 3-2 vote, the CPUC helped secure a future of growth for
rooftop solar by adopting a NEM successor tariff largely resembling the
original tariff (or “rate structure”), that governs how rooftop solar
generators are compensated for the energy they produce.   

What does this mean for you, the rooftop solar generator? First
and foremost, it means you will continue to be paid full retail rate (rather
than a lower wholesale rate proposed by the utilities) for all of the power you
produce and send to the grid. Additionally, no monthly fixed or transmission
access charges were imposed, and only a ‘reasonable’ one-time fee will be
charged for connection to the grid. Overall, the outcome was a big win for
rooftop solar. 

The Climate Center attended the CPUC session
to show our support and bring to you a report of the day’s events: 

Despite months – years, in fact – of aggressive lobbying and
grassroots organizing from the solar industry and climate activists, the
prevailing sentiment on January 28 was one of tension and uncertainty. 

More than twenty audience members presented public comments from
a variety of perspectives, almost all supporting strong NEM rules favoring
rooftop solar. Only one spoke against such rule-making: The California Chamber
of Commerce. 

At the close of the public comment period, CPUC President
Michael Picker opened the discussion among the commissioners. He noted that the
proposed decision (PD) from December to extend NEM would give customers more
choice as well as responsibility, and that the PD was moving in the right
direction. He voted YES (1-0). Commissioner Liane Randolph also spoke in
defense of NEM, saying that the PD strikes the right balance in a complicated
process. She voted YES (2-0). Commissioner Catherine Sandoval had enthusiastically
supported the PD leading up to the previous day’s amended proposal in which
transmission access charges were removed. She said she could not support the
proposal without those charges in place. She voted NO (2-1). Commissioner
Michael Florio largely echoed Sandoval’s comments, and voted NO (2-2). The
tension in the room escalated as the 2-2 vote and ultimate decision moved to
the last commissioner. ‘What if’ scenarios were playing out in everyone’s
minds. Commissioner Carla Peterman opened her remarks by acknowledging the wide
range of views on the matter and endorsed the PD as moving in the right
direction. She said she looked forward to working on the future of NEM, which
the CPUC takes up again in 2019. And then she cast a YES vote for the 3-2 final
vote in favor of NEM. 

Rooftop solar lives to power our communities for another

The mood in the room as the (mostly) rooftop solar
supporters stood to leave the chamber was one of relief. This was a hard-fought
battle over a complex set of issues governing an individual’s right to choose
how they power their lives. 

But the real winner was the climate. With new certainty now
established around rooftop solar rates, greenhouse gas reductions will
accelerate. Go solar!


Geoffrey D. Smith is
the Solar Sonoma County Program Coordinator for the Center for Climate
Protection.  He can be reached at
geoffrey@theclimatecenter.org or 707.654.4350.