California bill amends ruling that gutted value of solar for multi-meter properties

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California has made numerous cuts to solar incentives and programs in its state, including reductions in the valuation and crediting of exported solar generation, cuts to its emerging community solar program, and imposing a monthly fixed charge that erodes the potential savings brought on by rooftop solar.

However, the California legislature has recently moved forward a bill that would undo a decision that would negatively affect the value of rooftop solar for renters in multifamily housing, and for farms, and schools.

The decision sets hard limits on how much electricity produced by rooftop solar can be self-consumed by multi-meter properties. The policy effectively forces customers to first sell their solar production to the utility, and then buy it back at higher rates.

“It would force customers in multi-meter properties—such as renters, small farmers, schools, and colleges—to sell all of their generation to the utility at low rates and buy it back at full retail rates,” said the California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA).

California’s Virtual Net Metering and Net Energy Metering Aggregation programs allow properties with multiple meters to install a single solar array for the entire property, sharing one system’s electricity and associated net metering credits with all customers and meters on the property. 

The decision would require multi-meter properties to sell solar to the grid at a low “avoided cost” rate and then purchased back at a full retail rate. This would be required even if the electricity generated on the school’s roof was used directly by the school.

A new bill, Senate Bill 1374, sponsored by Senator Josh Becker, would reverse the decision. The bill passed the Senate 28-7 and now awaits approval from Governor Gavin Newsom.

“SB 1374 removes a burdensome barrier and restores the ability for customers to self-consume the energy they produce on their property,” Becker said in a statement. “This bill is simply a matter of fairness. Multiple-metered customers should get the same treatment as everyone else — not have to sell their power to the utility at low prices and immediately buy it back at much higher retail prices.”

The state’s three investor-owned utilities PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E oppose the decision. In a joint statement the three said Becker’s bill “subsidizes solar for all non-residential customers, not just schools.” However, public schools would essentially be performing energy arbitrage for the utility companies under their vision.

Utilities have justified cuts to rooftop solar programs based on an argument that non-solar customers subsidize those with solar. The utilities alleged the bill “is likely to trigger grid upgrades, which results in high cost for all, but for the benefit of only a few customers.” However. analysis from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has determined that non-residential solar programs have not caused a cost shift.

Supporters of Senate Bill 1374 say it would help schools with the electricity affordability crisis. Oakland Public Schools have seen their utility bill increase $1.5 million over the last year alone.

“Public schools have one general fund that everything comes out of: teachers’ salaries, textbooks, mental health counselors, utility bills-–it all comes out of the same bucket,” said Sam Davis, Oakland Unified School District board president. In previous years, we used solar energy to offset these rising costs and invest the savings in programs that improve educational equity. Restoring and protecting these incentives is critical to ensuring all students receive the education they need to thrive.”

Nearly 2,500 schools have installed solar in California according to Generation 180. Read about rooftop solar success stories for schools in the U.S. here.

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