California changes to electricity rates could harm rooftop solar

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is meeting today to consider proposals to change customer electricity rates, in a way that could hamper the popularity of rooftop solar in the state.

The proposals would lower costs for heavy users of electricity while charging all customers a fixed monthly grid connection fee to make up for the shortfall in revenue. The plans relate to the three major investor-owned utilities in California, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric.

Customers are usually charged in relation to the amount of power they consume and the new proposals would slim down the range of rates charged under this method. The plans would also require the utilitites to introduce charges based on time-of-use (TOU) by 2019.

CPUC said: “This change will allow for the more accurate allocation of costs and for energy rates to more fairly reflect the cost of service.

“We expect that the TOU rates approved by this decision will reduce overall electricity costs for all customers in the long-term.”

The Commission said that it had to consider impacts on the grid over the last decade especially during peak usage periods, such as “deepening afternoon valleys” resulting from increased deployment of solar, and the need for flexible ramping capacity.

However, the move could slow down the popularity of rooftop solar in the region, with small business representatives and members of the public raising the issue with the CPUC at its first ‘Voting Meeting’ on 25 June.

For example, PG&E customer, Edward Mainland said that the proposals would be “a major hit that will undermine energy efficiency and renewables adoption.”

He added: “I speak today against fixed charge and against rate-tier flattening. The public is already asking why […] would the Commission entertain a proposal that’s regressive, hurts low-income and low-energy users, hurts families that invest in energy efficiency, would discourage rooftop solar, unfairly blames customers and punishes those customers who are clean energy leaders?”

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