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“Be the Ball, Danny” (As originally published in The Danville/Alamo/Lafayette Today Newspaper, Jan 2014)

Read Original Newspaper Article PDF here

In the United States, the fixture of the solar industry appeals rosier than ever In the 1980’s, perhaps many people were saying the same thing, but at that time the industry fizzled after initial market penetration. There are many factors why this time there will be continued and rapid growth.

High product efficiency, low product cost, high electric rates, favorable utility connection regulations, legislative mandates, and governmental incentives all play a part in the rapid growth of the solar industry. None of the above factors would have any effect on solar industry growth without the breadth and depth of consumer adoption solar electricity. As of press time, over 195,000 solar projects are operating in California alone. Each and every one of these customers is taking advantage of monetary credits, rebates, and the resulting lower (or no) electric bills. Businesses and homeowners are saving lots of money.

Legislative Front – Assembly Bill 327: This bill, signed into law recently, will have a huge impact on California’s solar industry and consumers. The law has created a floor, not a ceiling, for our state’s 33% renewable energy goal. The law also mandates that utilities study, and better understand, the benefits, and infrastructure changes that the distributed energy model (rooftop solar) demands.

The Governor has provided guidance to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and said that if customers make an investment in a solar electric system before July 1, 2017, the net metering law which validates that investment should be considered protected for the expected life of the solar system*. Typical solar system life expectancy and warranty is 25 years**.

A potential re-write of electric rates is in the works. Rate hikes of lower tier electric rates will be met with resistance; these rates have been legislatively protected for low-income households. All customers can currently take advantage of these legislatively protected low first and second tier rates. Solar customers actually benefit more with expensive afternoon rates when their solar system generates the most credits via the net metering program.

The law leaves room for a surcharge on ALL residential electric customers. The utilities are regulated, and therefore rate hikes and surcharges have to be approved by the CPUC. The utilities will get away with what they can get away with; the CPUC will hopefully keep surcharges reason-able assuming said charges are necessary for the utilities’ financial health.

What perplexes me: PG&E will provide solar customers excellent credits for the solar power that we generate and supply to the grid. (This results in hundreds of thousands of electric bill savings for an average solar customer. Supposedly, PG&E doesn’t generate profit on the sale of electricity.) On the other hand, to protect their interests, they’ll argue that solar power is not providing any grid infrastructure or power plant savings.

Partnership: At this moment, PG&E is providing my home’s electricity, mostly for my family’s Christmas lights. Twelve hours from now, my solar system will be back-feeding power to the grid, and PG&E will be crediting me the cost of that power, then distributing that power to the grid. PG&E is not financially responsible for generating or transporting that power. In the summer especially, this means fewer peak power plants will be in operation for the increased electric demand created by air conditioning which equates to lesser loss of electric power transmitted over miles of electric lines, and re-selling of the power that solar systems generate. Considering these factors, clearly there are savings for PG&E.

For those of you with disdain for PG&E, I’ll ask you to temper that by recognizing the services PG&E provides. These services are critical to our economy, our state, and the continued success of distributed rooftop solar power. There’s a time for cooperation, and there’s a time for competition. Disregarding solar power’s contributions to the grid make PG&E’s position disingenuous.

PG&E: Some advice from Caddy shack: “Be the Ball” and reach “total consciousness” like Carl. Otherwise, end up in the “lumberyard” like Danny.

*Net Metering is the law that provides solar customers credits for the kilowatts that a solar electric system produces, reducing or eliminating a solar customer’s electric bill. **Solar World USA has just released a 30-year product warranty for their “Protect” line of solar modules.

By Mark Becker, GoSimpleSolar

Mark Becker is the President of GoSimpleSolar, by Semper Fidelis Construction Inc, a Danville based Solar Installation Firm (License 948715). Mark can be reached at 925.9119252. Visit GoSimpleSolar’s NEW and larger showroom at 100 Railroad Avenue, Suite B, Danville (behind Pete’s Brass Rail) or www.GoSimpleSolar.com or email Mark@GoSimpleSolar.com.