Californians reject roll back of solar net metering in poll

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A new poll indicates that 80% of Californians are against proposals from utilities to roll back the state's solar net metering programme, which compensates residential rooftop owners for the surplus energy they export back into the grid.

The state’s regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is debating whether to revise its net metering policy and is due to make a decision on the next version in December.

As a result of falling costs and the success of net metering in aiding the deployment of large volumes of rooftop solar, CPUC aksed the three major utilities, Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric, to come up with their own suggestions for successor tariffs to net metering. There are fears the utilities could seek to reduce the compensation available to solar users exporting surplus power back to the grid.

However, the state-wide poll of 1,000 Californian residents found that 83% believe utilities should not be able to impede the competition presented by rooftop solar panel owners.

In an interview with PV Tech in September, GTM Research’s senior solar analyst Cory Honeyman said that as California accounts for half of all residential installations by volume in the US, the CPUC's proposals will be “arguably one of the biggest regulatory decisions in residential solar market's history”.

He added: “Whatever outcome arises in December on net metering 2.0 is really going to dictate what the future holds for how much residential solar comes on line over the next five years.”

The CPUC proposals, which could hamper the uptake of rooftop solar has also been a cause for concern given that earlier this month California governor Jerry Brown approved “landmark” legislation that mandates the state to generate 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

The new poll found that 90% of Californians favour rooftop solar as a method of generating electricity above wind (88%), natural gas (71%), geothermal (65%), nuclear (46%) and coal (31%).

The poll also showed 92% of Californians believe consumers should have a choice to install rooftop solar panels instead of relying solely on their utility company. Meanwhile 79% said utilities should not be allowed to interfere with the transition to renewable energy to save their own profits.

Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA), which co-commissioned the poll along with Brightline Defense, said: “The public is strongly opposed to utilities interfering with consumer access to solar by attacking net metering. They think the state should do more to encourage rooftop solar, not make it more expensive.”

Eddie Ahn, executive director of Brightline Defense, co-commissioner of the poll, said: “Californians want the state to do more to make solar accessible to more people, particularly with our communities most in need of clean renewable energy.”

In August, hundreds of pro-solar protestors and representatives from industry and advocacy groups marched on California’s state capital, intent on defending the net metering policies and lobbying for extension of the investment tax credit (ITC).

Solar industry members and advocates will now also hold a rally outside the CPUC in Los Angeles on 21 October.

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