Report: Californial Should Remove Limits on Net Metered Solar

To keep its rooftop and community solar lead, California is going to have to get rid of limits on "net-metered" solar power

February 27, 2013

The debate over net metered solar is get­ting loud­er and more spir­it­ed, as util­i­ties resist efforts to remove caps on how much ener­gy solar cus­tomers can return to their grid.  New reports, like the one released below by the Inter­state Renew­able Ener­gy Coun­cil, advo­cate for those caps to be removed.  We’re watch­ing this issue care­ful­ly and will con­tin­ue to post rel­e­vant opin­ions here. Read the orig­i­nal Rewire Util­i­ties arti­cle here.

Cal­i­for­nia leads the nation in dis­trib­uted solar pow­er gen­er­a­tion (DG), but if the state wants to keep its rooftop and com­mu­ni­ty solar lead it’s going to have to get rid of lim­its on “net-metered” solar pow­er. That’s accord­ing to a new report released Feb­ru­ary 21 by the Inter­state Renew­able Ener­gy Coun­cil (IREC).

understanding-distributed-energyAccord­ing to the report, “Blue­print for the Devel­op­ment of Dis­trib­uted Gen­er­a­tion in Cal­i­for­nia,” the state also needs to pro­mote com­mu­ni­ty dis­trib­uted solar projects for peo­ple with­out access to a suit­ably sun­ny rooftop, and make oth­er pol­i­cy changes to help roll out dis­trib­uted gen­er­a­tion capac­i­ty more effectively.

Net meter­ing is the term used to describe arrange­ments by which prop­er­ty own­ers feed pow­er from their own solar arrays back into the grid through their elec­tric meter, run­ning it back­ward toward zero. Cal­i­for­nia cur­rent­ly lim­its net-metered ener­gy from rooftop and sim­i­lar solar arrays to five per­cent of peak cus­tomer demand; this arti­fi­cial cap, say the authors of the IREC report, will be filled statewide very short­ly, reduc­ing the incen­tive for dis­trib­uted solar development.

It’s a lit­tle odd that util­i­ties would fight rais­ing a net meter­ing cap, as net-metered solar is an aston­ish­ing­ly good deal for them: once a ratepay­er’s elec­tric meter rolls back to zero, any addi­tion­al pow­er fed into the grid is essen­tial­ly donat­ed to the util­i­ty. Con­trast this with a feed-in tar­iff pro­gram such as the one being launched by Los Ange­les Depart­ment of Water and Pow­er: feed-in tar­iffs pay a set rate per kilo­watt hour regard­less of the pro­duc­ers’ net ener­gy con­sump­tion. Despite the sweet­heart deal net-meter­ing offers util­i­ties, they’ve been reluc­tant to encour­age it, argu­ing with the Cal­i­for­nia Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion (CPUC) over the agen­cy’s inter­pre­ta­tion of what con­sti­tutes five per­cent of peak demand, for instance. Util­i­ties have also tried to slap “grid access” sur­charges on their net-meter­ing clients.

The IREC report rec­om­mends Cal­i­for­ni­a’s cap on net meter­ing be removed entirely.

The report also rec­om­mends that the state imple­ment a “com­mu­ni­ty solar” pro­gram to encour­age access to solar pow­er for peo­ple with­out suit­able roof space of their own, stream­line per­mit­ting statewide for rooftop and ground-mount­ed solar, and assess the state’s grid to pro­mote dis­trib­uted gen­er­a­tion in places where it does the most good, espe­cial­ly where it would reduce the need for new trans­mis­sion lines.

The rec­om­men­da­tions include sug­ges­tions regard­ing pro­cure­ment, inter­con­nec­tion, sys­tem plan­ning and per­mit­ting,” says Sky Stan­field, attor­ney with Keyes, Fox and Wied­man LLP, which rep­re­sents IREC. “Achiev­ing the great­est ben­e­fits from DG will require strate­gic action in all of these areas, and IREC’s blue­print helps to iden­ti­fy the ways in which they interrelate.”