California regulators are poised to shake up the solar market for apartments, schools, and farms in the state.
An administrative law judge has proposed changes that critics say make the economics of investing in solar projects unattractive.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) rewrote the net energy metering (NEM) rules for solar on single-family homes last year, and the same applies for larger complexes with a solar array with multiple metered hookups.
It’s part of a legislatively mandated review of the state’s NEM solar rules.
The changes approved for single-family home owners reduced the cost of electricity sold back to the grid, increasing the amount of time it takes to recoup thousands of dollars in bills. Homeowners invested in installing solar panels on their roofs.
The new proposed decision calls for an end to something called virtual net metering for complexes that have multiple electricity meters but are served by only one solar array.
“Virtual net metering allows the property to install a solar system on the property,” said Jae Berg of the Center for Sustainable Energy.
It also sets up a mechanism that allows every electricity meter in the area to share in the savings generated by the solar array.
“That’s why there are contractors that specialize in virtual net metering, and they’re experts to help property owners go and figure out how to break down the allocations so that every property and every tenant gets the desired amount,” said Berg.
Virtual net-metering systems are already in place around California, and the system is used to share solar benefits with eligible low-income housing complexes.
California’s Solar in Multifamily Affordable Housing program relies on virtual net metering, and that program will continue through 2050, even if other changes are adopted.
“We need 10 times more solar energy than we have today, and we’re not going to get there if we’re tying the solar economy to renters.”
Bernadette Del Chiaro, California Solar and Storage Association
But the proposed decision ends virtual net metering for the remaining rental complexes in the state.
California’s investor-owned utilities, including San Diego Gas and Electric, argued in legal filings that developing an updated virtual net-metering program would be too complicated and expensive. very.
“The utilities have no problem charging us. They can figure that out,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, who works with the California Solar and Storage Association. “All they’re complaining about is giving us credits and lowering our energy bills. They say that’s too hard. And we just don’t buy. We know that’s not true.”
SDG&E declined to comment.
Investor-owned utilities also indicated in filings that they support the recommendation to require complexes to sell their solar-generated electricity to utilities at wholesale prices.
Under this decision, affected customers will then purchase electricity from the utility at retail prices without the solar array recovering any energy generated by the sun, as owners are allowed to do. house
“We are developers of affordable housing,” said Arnulfo Manriquez of the Metropolitan Area Advisory Committee. “We’re building multifamily housing, and we’re installing solar on most of our apartments.”
MAAC social services nonprofit operates a 300-unit affordable housing complex in Southeast San Diego, and virtual net metering allows everyone in the complex to benefit.
“We want solar because using solar uses natural resources,” Manriquez said. “This has great savings in our operation in the cost paid by the land owner. But then the savings will also be passed on to the residents for the utilities that they spend individually in their own unit.
Changing rules and eliminating virtual net metering have made solar financially unattractive for Manriquez, and he said future projects will likely be built without solar arrays.
“With this proposed decision, which is about to end the program, it’s actually taking a lot of steps back for us,” said Tyler Valdes of the California Environmental Justice Alliance. “Frankly, for us, we believe it will continue a long legacy of racism.”
The CPUC was scheduled to discuss the issue last month but postponed the decision for several weeks. Some observers think changes may be in the works.
But Del Chiaro said he’s not optimistic because it’s the same commission that undermines financial benefits for single-family home owners.
“We really want to see this commission get back into the area of promoting distributed rooftop solar for Californians,” Del Chiaro said. “We need 10 times more solar energy than we have today, and we’re not going to get there if we have to tie the solar economy to renters.”
The five CPUC commissioners will probably decide the fate of the proposal when they meet this Thursday.