Big Win for Rooftop Solar as California Vote Boosts Clean Energy

A solar-paneled rooftop in Sierra Nevada. (Photo: Western Area Power/flickr/cc)

Big Win for Rooftop Solar as California Vote Boosts Clean Energy

State utilities commission passes incentives program despite efforts by private companies to make it more expensive

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Thursday approved a plan that leaves the state's rooftop solar incentives program largely intact, vindicating environmental and consumer advocates who went up against private interests looking to ratchet up the initiative's price points.

In a 3-2 vote, CPUC upheld the program, which gives subsidies to homeowners who transition to renewable energy. More than half of the solar-paneled households in the U.S. are in California, which has long been a leader in environmental innovation.

In fact, as fossil fuel power increasingly falls out of favor, many states around the country are likely to look toward CPUC's decision on Thursday to inform their own options for investing in renewable energy.

One crux of the plan allows homeowners to sell unused energy back to their utilities, a policy known as net metering which proponents say reduces bills and encourages consumers to lower their electricity use.

"State leaders around the country should follow California's example, and maintain and strengthen programs that ensure that every family, business, and community that wants to go solar, can go solar," Bret Fanshaw of Environment America said following the vote.

The program, written by CPUC president Michael Picker, faced a last-minute push by Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric that would have made going solar more expensive for consumers.

Picker did add some revisions to the plan late Wednesday, which will raise fees for new solar customers to support upkeep of the grid and public service programs, such as low-income bill assistance. However, the net metering will "continue spinning backward at full retail rate," according to the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA).

CALSEIA executive director Bernadette Del Chiaro said Thursday, "We all know that California is a world leader when it comes to being 'green.' But today's vote is more than that. It is about California continuing to champion innovation and a different way of doing things, in this case, building a smarter energy grid and allowing individual consumers to generate their own clean electricity."

The vote follows a similar fight in Nevada, where the Republican-owned Public Utilities Commission (PUC) recently enacted a rule raising monthly fees for solar customers and reducing the amount they get paid for selling unused electricity back to their grid.

Del Chiaro called net metering the "single most important decision facing the solar industry in the United States today."

Fanshaw added, "Today will shine bright in California history, bringing cleaner air, more local jobs and a more secure energy future for all Californians. That's why we're delighted that California leaders didn't bow to special interests today and instead are protecting this critical program to support rooftop solar."

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