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Controversial net metering bill could change future of rooftop solar in California

Photo by Vivint Solar from Pexels
New legislation is being proposed in California that focuses on how much people pay and save on their electricity bills when they invest in rooftop solar energy.

A California lawmaker is proposing new legislation that focuses on how much people pay and save on their electricity bills when they invest in rooftop solar energy. 

AB 1139 focuses on net energy metering, which is a process that allows people with solar panels to sell the excess energy their home system produces back to the utility to be used in the greater grid.

San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is the bill’s author. She said the goal is to push the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) into reforming net energy metering.

This would decrease the financial incentives to install and maintain solar energy, but Gonzalez said consumers will continue to see some savings on bills even with rate reform.

Supporters of the bill say current rooftop solar industry regulation creates inequity within the energy market. Utility companies credit rooftop solar customers back for using their energy, often outright paying the customer.

The utility then recovers that loss by charging non-solar customers more. Supporters say the bill will help prevent added subsidies for non-solar customers.

Opponents of the bill say it’s bad for California’s clean energy goals. They say it penalizes customers who choose to go solar.

Bernadette Del Chiaro is the Executive Director of the California Solar and Storage Association. She said this bill would negatively impact more than 300,000 homes and 10,000 businesses and schools.

“It retroactively changes the terms of the contract that consumers basically have with the state of California with regards to their net metering,” Del Chiaro said.

Del Chiaro said this means the credit solar customers get for putting their energy back into the grid would go down and companies like Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) could take back those savings. She said the bill also dismantles the rooftop solar market moving forward.

“All of our local businesses, of whom there are thousands — many, many hundreds in the San Luis Obispo region — will go out of business and the jobs will be lost. Thousands of clean energy jobs that are in our local communities will be lost,” Del Chiaro said.

Assemblywoman Gonzalez said her bill wouldn’t kill the rooftop solar industry because it’s mandated for every new constructed house in California.

A representative of PG&E said the utility has no position on AB 1139.

However, PG&E is a member of Affordable Clean Energy for All, a coalition urging the CPUC to reform the state’s net energy metering.

The coalition said it wants to ensure all electricity customers — those with solar and those without — pay their fair share toward grid maintenance and other costs.

Legislators are expected to vote on the bill this week.

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.