CPUC’s Busy Alt Energy Week: A “Hero” One Day, a “Goat” the Next

Friday, December 18, 2015

Struggling to make work a business model inherently competitive with the alternative energy sources committed to by the state, California’s major utilities have pushed the Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to raise fees and adjust rates on alt users as compensation for the lost business and to smooth the transition.

Critics say the utilities are trying to kill the competition, or at least impede its growth. On Tuesday, an administrative judge for the CPUC put a smile on the face of many of those critics by leaving intact, for the most part, a net metering system that pays solar-using homeowners for their excess energy. Around 3% of the state’s utility consumers have solar hookups.

The three major utilities—Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric Co.—wanted the commission to slice payments substantially. In the case of Edison, the company was asking that the typical 15-cent-per-kilowatt-hour compensation for rooftop solar customers be cut to 8 cents. PG&E wants it cut to 9 cents.

Judge Karen Clopton rejected those requests and one for new monthly fees on solar users. But she did include a one-time charge of between $75 and $150 for homeowners who install solar arrays and hook up to the nation’s electric grid. Solar users will also have to pay 2 to 3 cents per kilowatt-hour into a fund for low-income and energy-efficient programs.  

The proposal still needs approval of the five-member commission, which is scheduled to vote January 28. 

Clean energy advocates hailed the judge’s decision. “It clearly rejects the utility proposals to kill the rooftop solar market in California,” Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Clean energy advocates were not as happy with a CPUC decision two days later which dealt a blow to community choice energy providers that compete in the Bay Area with PG&E. The state empowered cities and counties in 2002 to create joint authorities that focus on obtaining energy from renewable sources that “green” consumers might be attracted to.

Marin Clean Energy, the first one created in 2010, received 56% of its energy from renewable sources last year, compared to PG&E’s 27%, according to the Marin Independent Journal

On Thursday, the commission voted 4-1 to nearly double a fee charged to community choice customers. The average Marin Clean Energy customer will see an increase in the so-called exit fee from $6.70 to $13. That will push the average bill above a comparable PG&E bill for the first time.

Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) told the Independent Journal, “The PUC is doubling down on a flawed regulatory scheme. California must encourage affordable clean energy rather than continue down this failed path that is punitive to everyday Californians.”   

Reflecting on the busy week of conflicting decisions, CPUC President Michael Picker told the Chronicle, “One day you’re a hero, the next day you’re a goat.” He was, presumably, talking about public perception of his commission, not its actual behavior.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Wants Solar Homeowners to Pay a Little More (by David R. Baker, San Francisco Chronicle)

Calif. Slams Plan by Utilities to Slash Solar-Power Compensation (by Elizabeth Warmerdam, Courthouse News Service)

California Regulators Reject Steeper Fees for Solar Users (by Louis Hansen, San Jose Mercury News)

Customers of Clean Energy Programs Hit with Fee Increase (by Lizzie Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle)

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