Californians will have to wait until at least Nov. 2 to learn whether the state’s utility regulators follow through with a policy change that would raise the cost of solar systems for apartments, schools, and farms.
The proposed Virtual Net Energy Metering tariff that was scheduled for Thursday’s California Public Utilities Commission meeting in Stockon has been moved by staff to the Nov. 2 agenda. Staff had previously moved the item from the Sept. 21 agenda to Thursday’s.
Under the proposal, new solar systems installed at apartment complexes, schools, and farms would no longer be able to directly use power generated by solar panels on the property and sell any excess power to utility companies like Pacific Gas & Electric at retail prices, as they do today.
Instead, electricity generated by newly installed systems would bypass the apartment complex grid and be sold to utilities at wholesale rates — generally about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour — which would then resell the electricity to tenants at retail rates, which typically are higher than 30 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Critics say the change would gut the economic viability of solar system installations and would strip from apartment tenants, many of whom are lower-income, the benefit of having lower-cost electricity generated on site.
The cost to taxpayers who support school districts also would increase, because the electricity generated in solar systems that cover roofs and parking lots at schools would go directly to utility companies instead of the schools.
Delay Not Uncommon for PUC
Solar industry official Bernadette Del Chiaro said Tuesday it’s not clear why the PUC staff has again delayed the commission’s vote on the new rule.
But Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar and Storage Association, said the PUC’s decision on a similar matter that changed how single-family homes are credited for electricity sold to utilities was delayed nearly a year before the commission issued its decision in December.
The NEM 3.0 decision, which took effect on April 15, has had a huge impact on the state’s solar industry and has resulted in an 80% drop in sales, Del Chiaro said.
The delay by PUC staff “is a sign that they are still struggling with what to do with this decision, and hearing from a lot of different voices and realizing it’s very important,” she said. “So that part is good. But, on the whole, we’re just still very nervous about where the commission wants to take this.”
A PUC spokeswoman did not reply to a request for comment Tuesday morning.