Attack on Rooftop Solar

at 11:43 PM

When I installed solar on my roof 12 years ago, California law required that PG&E give me a credit on my bill for the extra power I generate. It's called net metering: If I produce more power than I use, PG&E sells that surplus to other ratepayers -- it's only fair that PG&E compensate me, right?

But all that's about to change if PG&E has its way. PG&E's profits are set by the Public Utilities Commission based on how much transmission infrastructure is in use. So if PG&E generates electricity in a centralized power station and transmits it across long distances, it makes a lot of money, and I mean a lot of money. Last year, it raked in $1.4 billion in profits.

But rooftop solar messes with PG&E's model because customers generate their own power just a few inches from where they're using it, meaning PG&E makes nothing, nada, zero. That's why it's not too happy that California's rooftop revolution is generating enough solar to power 2.6 million homes.

PG&E's solution is to convince the PUC to slap new charges on solar customers and pay us less than the market rate for the surplus power we generate. This would cost the average solar homeowner $29 a month, enough to deter most folks from going solar.

PG&E argues that solar customers aren't paying their fair share toward maintaining the grid. That's simply not true. The PUC studied this and found that solar customers do indeed pay their own way.

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Anyway, I barely use the grid. My rooftop array fully powers my home during the day. At night, I do use power from the grid and, hello, I pay for it. Is the PUC really going to let PG&E penalize me for having home solar?

Thanks largely to decades of net metering, California is a global leader in clean energy. PG&E's attack on net metering is intended to put the kibosh on the rooftop revolution, and it has to be stopped.

With a Perspective, I'm Erica Etelson.

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Erica Etelson is a writer and community activist in Berkeley.

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