News and analysis about renewable energy in California.

Report: California Should Remove Limits on Net Metered Solar

A community solar facility in Davis, California | Photo courtesy Interstate Renewable Energy Council

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).

According 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.

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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."

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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Thanks for the article, Chris.

What about the cost-shifting issues associated with net energy metering (NEM)? Critics argue, with reason, that NEM favors wealthier Californians who can afford a residential solar system, while disadvantaging those cannot afford such systems. NEM users do not have to pay for any distribution grid upgrades, and these costs are then passed onto energy consumers who do not utilize NEM.

Additionally, NEM does not incentivize anyone to generate more energy than they use, as they don't get paid. As a result, the entire Wholesale Distributed Generation market segment is ignored. California needs policies that support the development of WDG, as this market segment is key for the quick and cost-effective transition to clean local energy.

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It is just beyond belief that IREC is so blind to the amazing possibilities of a legitimate feed in tariff (not the cheapskate, tiny, wrongsized LADWP version) for all scales of solar generation, including sunny rooftops where the homeowners are NOT wasteful gluttons so they will LOSE money from net metering, and community solar where net metering has the aforementioned problem, plus financing/tax credit problems plus complexity in administration without the FIT.

PAKISTAN has FITs now for chrissakes! Yet we cling to our Big Energy Winner Take All models, which cost ratepayers, taxpayers and the environment dearly and do not effectively reduce GHG emissions. FITs, especially when paid so that ratepayer-generators can see a fair return on investment, would not only incentivize energy efficiency, but would mean mean the fastest and cheapest uptake of renewables, improve property values, increase local employment and infuse billions of dollars INTO communities that are currently bleeding those billions outward, into the pockets of Big Energy, and would also spare our fragile open spaces from the devastation of Big Solar and Big Wind.

If FITs are done right, we cannot lose. So why aren't they being promoted as the "Beyond Coal" policy solution, the Jerry Brown "Climate Change is WWIII" policy solution, the IPCC policy solution, and the main priority for the IREC, Vote Solar, NRDC, and other organizations claiming to want solar power? Follow the money...