California’s decision to continue its net metering programme has been hailed as part of ongoing shift in the world’s attitude to energy by senior solar industry figures.
The state’s Public Utilities Commission voted three votes to two in favour of extending the programme. Net metering customers have secured a further three years of being compensated for their excess power at the retail rate of electricity.
SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive said the decision gave the industry the opportunity to demonstrate distributed energy’s benefits to the grid and all ratepayers, solar and otherwise, while cutting emissions and creating jobs.
"Since December we have seen a paradigm shift on the world's approach to electricity, with the Paris climate agreement, extension of the federal investment tax credit, and now a decision from California that will continue the successful net metering policy while ensuring rooftop solar users begin to provide valuable services to the grid,” said Rive. “This new paradigm is one in which our most important goal is to deploy renewable energy as fast as possible. SolarCity looks forward to working with everyone to exceed the world's expectations on how fast we can do it."
SunEdison's president and CEO Ahmad R. Chatila reiterated the grid benefits that additional net metering customers could offer the state.
"We thank California's policymakers for today's decision on net metering and applaud the integrity of all parties who contributed to these proceedings. We firmly believe that today's decision is an important step forward and will help build a stronger, more robust electricity grid which delivers clean, cost effective energy to all of the citizens of California."
California is by far the biggest solar state in the US. In 2014 it installed ten times more solar than the second placed state, North Carolina.
Bryan Miller, Sunrun senior VP public policy and power markets and president of advocacy group, The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), said the decision meant California’s position at the vanguard of US renewable deployment had been protected from the utility firms.
"We commend the commission for upholding net metering and protecting solar choice for Californians. While today's decision is a compromise that will require the solar industry to adapt, it rejects the utilities' anti-solar proposals and continues California's renewable energy leadership," said Miller.
But the decision has drawn criticism from the utilities that had been pressing the CPUC to make more fundamental changes to California's net metering programme.
Pacific Gas & Electricty (PG&E) spokesman Donald Cutler said the company “strongly supports the continued, sustainable growth of rooftop solar in California”, but added;
“We are extremely disappointed that the CPUC did not take the opportunity to meet the important goals set out in AB327 [the legislation in question] and make the smart energy reforms that are needed to ensure a sustainable market for solar in California.”
“PG&E is committed to working with all parties to find the right balance to support continued growth of solar and evolve regulations that reflect the market dynamics of 25 years ago and to help ensure that rates for all customers are equitable," he added.
Meanwhile, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) issued a stronger statement, claiming that the decision ignored state law, penalised non-solar customers and would add US$300 to their bills by 2025.
“This decision will likely be celebrated by vendors profiting from today’s decision, but moving forward it becomes increasingly important for all parties to work together to develop a modern solution to this outdated programme, one that complies with state law and balances everyone’s interests,” the statement concluded.
Nevada recently hiked fees and reduced returns for net metering customers, prompting solar firms to warn of the loss of thousands of jobs and attracting criticism fromi presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.