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San Diegans generate the most rooftop solar in the state, so a new proposal that cuts incentives to continue building it could sting for California’s southernmost county.
The state Public Utilities Commission proposed slashing credits new rooftop solar owners would get for selling excess energy back to the grid in a proposal dropped Thursday. Under the current rate structure, rooftop solar owners make 30 cents per kilowatt but Thursday’s proposal, according to the California Solar and Storage Association, would cut that rate to about 8 cents per kilowatt hour.
The proposed plan is better, some solar advocates say, than one introduced a year ago and later stalled after intervention by Gov. Gavin Newsom who appoints the members of that commission.
“This won’t kill the solar industry,” said Tyson Siegele, an energy analyst at The Protect Our Communities Foundation, a local rooftop solar advocacy group. “SDG&E has the highest electric rates in the continental U.S. and rates are continuing to go up year after year. People are still going to be installing solar.”
But it still sparked rebuke from both the solar industry and a group supported by investor-owned utilities like San Diego Gas & Electric, both of which have argued that as wealthier Californians adopt solar the costs of maintaining the electric grid gets shifted onto poorer Californians already suffering from high energy bills.
“It is extremely disappointing that under this proposal, low-income families and all customers without solar will continue to pay a hidden tax on their electricity bills to subsidize rooftop solar for mostly wealthier Californians,” wrote Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for the investor-owned utility-backed Affordable Clean Energy for All in a press release.
Siegele pointed out some positives: The CPUC proposal eliminated the monthly charge rooftop owners would have to pay to connect to the grid under the 2021 solar incentive plan. And, the current proposal benefits rooftop solar owners that add battery storage by dolling out potentially higher-value credits when solar is discharged back to the grid in times of high demand – like at night when the sun isn’t shining or during heat waves when Californians flip on their air conditioners.
“If this is approved I anticipate there will be a much higher attachment rate of batteries to new solar that’s installed,” he said.
Others still see the proposal as a failure for renewable energy adoption during the climate crisis.
“The proposed decision is a win for the fossil fuel industry as the adoption of local, reliable clean energy will slow especially in communities of concern,” wrote Tara Hammond, executive director and founder of Hammond Climate Solutions Foundation based in San Diego.
The CPUC will hold a public hearing on the proposal Nov. 16.
Got a rooftop solar system powering your home, business or apartment complex? Or thinking about it? Voice of San Diego’s environment reporter, MacKenzie Elmer, wants to hear from you and whether changes to California’s solar incentives would affect your decision. Send her an email at email@example.com.