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California debating the future of rooftop solar's biggest incentive

Wed 24th March, 2021 5:56pm
March 24 (Reuters) - California's power utilities have asked
state officials to reduce the amount of money homeowners make
selling excess electricity from rooftop solar panels into the
grid, a proposal that could slow widespread solar adoption. 
    Policies made in California, the nation's biggest market for
rooftop solar panels, often serve as a template for other states
that are seeking to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy
to fight climate change.
    This week utilities, solar industry representatives,
ratepayer advocates and others are presenting their ideas on
potential reforms to officials at the California Public
Utilities Commission, who will make a decision later this year.
The new policy would likely take effect in 2022 or 2023.
    The competing proposals presented on Tuesday and Wednesday
focus on a decades-old policy called net metering, which allows
homeowners with solar panels to sell the excess power to their
utility at or near the full retail rate. 
    The incentive has propelled installations, helping
residential solar behemoths like Sunrun Inc  RUN.O  and Tesla
Inc  TSLA.O , as well as hundreds of small local firms.
    The power industry, however, argues that the policy is
overly generous, and shifts billions of dollars in grid
maintenance costs to their customers without panels, who tend to
be less affluent than solar owners. 
    The state's three investor-owned utilities - Pacific Gas &
Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California
Edison – have recommended monthly charges for solar owners that
would range between $49 and $79 a month for a 5-kilowatt system
while compensating them for excess power at a lower rate.
    The solar industry has balked at the utility proposal,
saying it would stifle growth and undermine efforts to slow
global warming. California has a goal of decarbonizing its power
sector by 2045.
    "If we really put the brakes on rooftop solar today... we're
going to be in a world of hurt in 10 years when you wake up and
realize 'We actually do need to build (more solar panels),'"
Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California
Solar & Storage Association, said in an interview.
    Solar trade groups have proposed a gradual reduction in the
net metering rate over five years. By 2027, the rates would be
between 25% and 50% lower than they are today, depending on the
utility, according to a proposal by the Solar Energy Industries
Association.

 (Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Aurora Ellis)
 ((nichola.groom@thomsonreuters.com;))
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