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Regulators Delay Decision on New Solar Costs for California Schools, Apartments



A proposed energy metering rule could make solar systems unfeasible for new multifamily developments. (GV Wire Composite/David Rodriguez)
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The California Public Utilities Commission is delaying consideration of a proposal that would require multifamily housing units, schools, and farms to supply electricity directly from their newly installed solar panels to utility companies.

The Virtual Net Energy Metering rule had been on Thursday’s PUC agenda but has been moved to the Oct. 12 agenda by staff, according to the PUC website.

The PUC did not immediately respond to an email Wednesday seeking further information about why staff is delaying the issue to Oct. 12.

Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of California Solar and Storage Association, said the PUC has not publicized why the hearing has been postponed to next month. But it may be so that the PUC can make revisions to the proposed rule, although what those changes might be is unclear.

Under the proposed rule, newly installed solar systems at apartment complexes, schools, and farms would be required to transmit generated electricity directly to utility companies such as Pacific Gas & Electric, which then would sell the electricity back to the site where it was generated at retail prices.

Currently, sites with solar panels can use the generated power before transmitting any excess for purchase by the utility company.

Critics say the proposed rule would discourage apartment complex owners, schools, and farms from installing solar systems. Using power generated on site lowers the amount of electricity that consumers have to purchase from utility companies, lowering costs for consumers. In addition, having the ability to sell unused power to the utilities helps offset the costs of installing and maintaining solar systems.

Solar Systems at Schools

Clovis Unified School District has installed solar panels over parking lots, generating power as well as providing shade. But if the new rule goes into effect, the district will have to take a hard look at whether it will be cost-effective to install solar systems in the future, spokeswoman Kelly Avants told GV Wire.

“If approved it would lower the financial benefits and viability of new projects that Clovis Unified or other school districts may consider in the future,” she said.

Travis Smith, a Sacramento-based contractor, told the PUC in a public hearing in August that the proposed rule would make solar unfeasible and could kill new projects, because state law requires new construction to have solar systems.

“It is unfathomable how the state can on one hand mandate solar and on the other hand make solar financially unrealistic,” he said in an email last month. “If the proposal is passed as it’s written, it would contradict with California’s goals to build more affordable housing, create jobs and reach our renewable energy targets.”

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email