With Rooftop Solar Booming, California Utilities Want to Charge More
This winter, solar companies and utilities are headed for a showdown.
Regulators will soon be deciding whether Californians installing solar panels will have to pay new monthly fees to their utility, including PG&E and the state’s two other major utilities.
The debate, years in the making, was sparked by something that’s been troubling the utility sector: as more Californians make their own power, electric utilities are bringing in less money.
And the growth of solar in the state has exploded. PG&E estimates that it hooks up a new solar system to the grid every seven minutes.
At stake is a core incentive that solar customers rely on: a policy known as “net-energy metering.”
When homeowners like Matt Brown decide to install solar, they’re usually looking at the bottom line. When Brown bought panels for his Oakland home earlier this year, he calculated that he’d start saving money in five or six years because of net-metering.
Here’s how it works: in the evening, when Brown is getting dinner ready for his two young sons, he’s using plenty of electricity to power his lights and appliances. Since it’s dark out, his solar panels aren’t producing and he has to buy that electricity from PG&E.
But his utility bill isn’t as high as you might think.
“Right now we’re projected basically to have a zero bill,” Brown says.