News and analysis about renewable energy in California.

Solar Group: 'Don't Trust Utilities On Rooftop Solar Costs'

ReWire reported Monday on utility complaints that rooftop solar customers are costing other ratepayers money. Now, a leading California solar advocacy group has weighed in in no uncertain terms, calling utility allegations that rooftop solar panel owners cost other ratepayers money "largely horsemalarkey."

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The San Francisco-based advocacy group Vote Solar has posted a blistering rebuttal to the Bloomberg article ReWire noted Monday, accusing California's largest investor-owned utilities of "rushing to derail one of our most important solar programs, and... doing it with some mighty fuzzy math."

Vote Solar's post, which doesn't bear a byline, alleges that utilities seem to have "cooked the books" to come up with the total of $1.3 billion that non-solar ratepayers are theoretically paying to cover the costs of solar. Most seriously, Vote Solar charges that utilities' assessment of the amount of solar entering the grid is inflated by somewhere between 50 and 80 percent:

Utilities count all solar energy generated by the net metered customer as a cost that someone else has to pay for...but 50 to 80 percent of that power is used on-site without ever touching the utility's grid. Just like energy efficiency, solar power that's used on-site places no burden on the utility system, and yet utilities are accounting for it as if it's a cost. This is exactly like saying that when a customer turns off her lights, she should have to pay for the power she doesn't use. [Emphasis in original.]

The post also points out that net metering solar customers are usually paid based on a cheaper, lower-tier cost per kilowatt-hour, while utilities report those costs as if they were paid at a higher-tier rate, inflating those costs by another 18 to 40 percent. And the Vote Solar adds that -- as ReWire noted Monday -- the allegations of transferred costs don't account for the benefits from avoiding centralized generation and new transmission lines.

The Bloomberg article didn't cite utility sources for their calculations. Vote Solar points out that its analysis of the utilities' position is based on previous similar statements.

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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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