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Save Rooftop Solar

November 24, 2015 | Kerry Inserra

On the roof of Terminal 3, at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), more than 2,800 individual photovoltaic (PV) modules are busy producing electricity. Aptly named the Terminal 3 Solar Project, this 5.5 million-dollar Clean Air, Clean Energy project can produce up to 628,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) annually, enough to power over 100 hundred homes for a year.  Sounds like a good investment on the part of SFO, right?

Here in the East Bay, there are thousands of homes displaying rooftop solar.  But surprisingly, many still do not. Rooftop solar is saving homeowners thousands of dollars per year (depending on the size of your home) and significantly reducing, if not eliminating one’s monthly electric bills.  Sounds good right?  After-all, who wouldn’t want to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and reduce or eliminate your monthly electric bill?

You’d be surprised.  Or then again, maybe you wouldn’t.

At the end of 2015, the fate of the rooftop solar industry will be decided upon by 5 California Public Utilities Commissioners (CPUC) who will vote on Net Metering and what that will look like in the future. 

So that begs the question:  What is Net Metering and what does that have to do with rooftop solar? Plenty. Net Metering is defined as a billing term that credits solar energy system customers for the electricity they are generating and adding onto the grid-at full retail value-then utility companies turn around and sell that electricity back to one’s neighbors at full retail price.

For example, if a residential customer has a PV system on their home’s rooftop, it may generate more electricity than the home uses during daylight hours. The homeowner can then get credit for this energy for future use. Without Net Metering, the economic incentive to go solar is significantly reduced, stamping out any real competition and reinstating monopoly status to utility companies.  For a more comprehensive definition of Net Metering, check out Peter Asmus’ Forum article in the Sacramento Bee.

There are two main influencers involved in the fight to save rooftop solar:

1. Electric utility companies don’t like rooftop solar and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is a tough dog to fight; they don’t welcome competition.
2. Governor Jerry Brown is passionate about climate change.

Let’s take the CPUC first.

Electric utility companies across the state and the country are trying to change the way they charge customers by shifting more of their fixed costs to monthly fees. Traditionally, utility charges have been wrapped into a monthly cost based on the amount of electricity consumer’s use each month.  According to William Dornbos, Connecticut director for Acadia Center in Maine, “fixed fees are unpopular because they disempower the customer and discourage investing in rooftop solar and energy efficiency.”  He adds, “high monthly fees reduce the proportion of the total bill that a customer can lower by conserving energy, reducing the incentive to explore rooftop solar as an option.”

And yet many utility companies are seeking to increase their monthly fees by double-digit percentages, regardless of the amount of power consumers use.  The problem for utility companies is that many consumers are using less power today, in part because appliances are so much more efficient and because many are converting to rooftop solar.

Governor Jerry Brown’s Climate Change Policy-Potential Impact on Rooftop Solar

Governor Jerry Brown may turn out to be the biggest influencer of all in the fight to save rooftop solar. While the 3 main utility companies in California continue to challenge alternative energy policies, Governor Jerry Brown continues to be passionate about climate change.  This is good news for those who support continuing incentives for rooftop solar.

One way the Governor could be tremendously helpful here is to hold steadfast against the mighty utility companies and press the CPUC to vote against any proposed regulations that would put solar rooftop panels out of reach for Californian’s (as a side note: Governor Jerry Brown appoints the PUC commissioners). Polls show that Californian’s overwhelming support the expansion of solar power. 

Governor Brown will be leaving for the climate talks in Paris in early December.  Email Governor Brown today and tell him to support rooftop solar in California.

Governor Jerry Brown’s Contact Info: http://www.saverooftopsolarca.com/email-the-governor

We need more rooftop solar projects like Terminal 3 at SFO….right