California lawmakers reject controversial net metering bill

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California lawmakers have voted down a proposed change to the state’s net metering rules that would have cut rates for rooftop solar customers.

The California Assembly rejected a controversial bill, AB 1139, on Wednesday (2 June) that would have significantly cut net metering rates and remove requirements for the California Public Utilities Commission to ensure sustainable growth in the state’s rooftop solar sector.

The bill was promoted by utilities PG&E, Southern California Edison, and SDG&E, and introduced to the Assembly in February. The Assembly had already significantly revised the bill late last week (28 May), extending the deadline for the utilities to agree on a successor tariff to the current net-metering system from January 2022 to August that year, and ensures that existing customers who benefit from the current net metering scheme will be given the same rates for 20 years, instead of the 10 years proposed by the power companies.

It also removed a policy that would make net metering rates match wholesale electricity prices, lowering the amount rooftop solar owners would get paid for what they send to the grid from more than US$0.20/kWh to around US$0.03/kWh.

The Assembly requires a majority vote to pass the bill, and with 27 Ayes and 27 Nos, it failed to pass. However, Assembly member Wendy Carrillo made a motion to reconsider the vote on Wednesday.

The decision was welcomed by the The California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA), which said that the original bill was “out of step with the deep popularity of rooftop solar in the golden state”.

“AB 1139 would have sent California backward in its efforts to move to clean energy,” the trade body said in a statement. “It would have broken a promise to hundreds of thousands of solar consumers by adding new fees and reducing the credit they receive for excess energy sent back to the grid. It would have taken California from leading the nation in expanding solar in working- and middle-class neighbourhoods to a solar unfriendly state where clean energy is accessible only to the rich.”

The decision comes after the utilities’ proposal to modernise California’s net-metering programme (NEM 3.0), which would have come into effect this November and included monthly grid charges for rooftop solar owners, received fierce backlash from campaigners.

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