Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) today said that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) must do more to ensure that rooftop solar power can continue to grow as a clean energy resource for Californians for years to come.
PG&E said a proposed decision released today by a CPUC administrative law judge falls well short of what is needed to ensure sustainable growth of solar.
“Consumer advocates and environmentalists alike agree that change in solar rates is needed. Some solar company executives will say that the sky is falling if we make any changes but the truth is that solar's bright future will only be assured by moving forward with smart energy reform. Solar is too important to our state’s energy future not to get it right,” said Steve Malnight, senior vice president, regulatory affairs, PG&E.
Almost two decades ago, rooftop solar was given substantial incentives in order to spur growth of the nascent industry. Under these dated rules, rooftop solar users can effectively pay nothing for their use of the grid to both buy and sell electricity. In addition, they are paid more than market rates for excess electricity that they generate, despite solar costs falling more than 50 percent in the last six years.
Today, these incentives amount to nearly $1 billion annually statewide, which is currently offset by the rates paid by non-solar customers. It is estimated that maintaining the existing incentives for rooftop solar would increase bills for non-solar customers by $45 monthly by 2025. For customers on the California Alternative Rates for Energy Program (CARE), the cost of this solar subsidy would entirely offset the low-income discount they receive. The majority of PG&E’s customers cannot adopt rooftop solar because they rent, live in apartment buildings, or have homes poorly situated for solar panels.
Recognizing the need for change, the State of California mandated, through Assembly Bill 327 in 2013, that the CPUC take action before the end of 2015 to adjust incentives to more sustainable levels in order to ensure the long-term growth of rooftop solar.
PG&E has proposed a plan that would maintain solar incentives at a level that would ensure continued growth of solar and asked that the CPUC reconsider the appropriate level of incentives again in three years or less given the fast-changing nature of the growing industry. Under PG&E’s proposal, new customers adopting solar panels would be able to save up to 50 percent off their electricity bills. Incentives for existing solar customers would be unchanged.
Support for Solar Power
Under California law, PG&E doesn’t make more money by selling more electricity and the company strongly supports continued growth in the adoption of rooftop solar for its environmental benefits and to support utility customers who want to choose solar.
PG&E has the fastest interconnection time among U.S. utilities for new rooftop solar customers, taking less than five days to ensure the safety of new connections compared to an industry average of four weeks. In addition, PG&E has customer service representatives specifically dedicated to rooftop solar customers. This team of PG&E solar experts has enabled PG&E to connect more than 65,000 customers to its electric grid in 2015 – about 60 percent more than in 2014.
Available in early 2016, PG&E’s new Solar Choice program expands solar power to customers who are unable to install rooftop solar panels. Customers can purchase up to 100 percent of their electric power from solar energy locally sourced in PG&E’s service area.
Earlier this month, PG&E announced that all of its operations service centers – nearly 100 facilities in Northern and Central California – will be 100 percent powered by solar energy through the utility’s Solar Choice program. By choosing the program for its operations service centers – where local crews, vehicles and equipment are based – PG&E aims to raise awareness of the program and encourage customers to consider signing up as well.
PG&E has continued to advance solar in Northern and Central California by supporting solar for underserved communities through 10-year partnerships with Habitat for Humanity and GRID Alternatives to put free rooftop solar on low-income households. These programs are fully funded by PG&E shareholders and do not impact customer rates.
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