New rules proposed Aug. 4 by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) could make it unaffordable for tenants in apartment buildings, farms and schools to take advantage of solar rooftops and battery storage. The proposed decision could deny apartment buildings the ability to use the energy they produce on-site without selling it to the utility and buying it back at higher prices.
Up for debate are proposed changes to the Virtual Net Energy Metering (VNEM) and Net Energy Metering Aggregation (NEMA) programs. The programs allow properties with multiple electric meters to install a single property-wide solar system that shares a solar system's electricity and net energy metering credits with all customers and meters on that property. This brings the benefits of solar use to many types of consumers who would not otherwise benefit from Net Energy Metering (NEM), the program that makes solar energy more affordable by providing consumers with solar systems with the excess energy they produce and share with the power grid , credits granted.
VNEM and NEMA are essential in making residential solar energy accessible and affordable. Farms that have separately metered irrigation wells, commercial developments, and school and college campuses also rely on the ability to share solar energy production and net energy metering credits.
In December last year, the CPUC issued a ruling on the value of solar power credits for single-family homes. This decision involves a distinction between energy consumed on-site and energy exported to the utility grid. It drastically reduces the compensation for exported energy, but still allows customers to use their own generated electricity in real time. Under this updated program, known as NEM 3.0, consumption of the energy generated by customers will result in them buying less energy from the utility.
The proposed decision on virtual net energy metering makes no distinction between energy consumed on-site and energy exported to the utility's power grid. It effectively prohibits customers from buying less energy from the utility, even if they produce and consume energy on-site in real time. It would force customers in multi-meter properties - such as tenants, smallholders, schools and colleges - to sell all of their generation to the utility at low prices and buy them back at full retail prices.
The proposed decision is scheduled for a vote by CPUC commissioners on September 21. If the CPUC finally makes the decision as proposed, it will likely end the ability of homes and many schools and farms to install solar power and energy storage.
"Residences, farms, schools and commercial buildings offer a tremendous opportunity to expand California's clean energy capacity while bringing the benefits of solar use to many types of consumers who have previously been excluded," said CALSSA CEO Bernadette Del Chiaro. “Big utilities and our state energy regulators shouldn’t treat people in apartments and other multi-meter situations any worse than consumers in single-family homes. We know that solar power threatens utility profits and they will stop at nothing to stop our progress - but this kind of unfair discrimination is too much even for them.”
Hundreds of organizations and companies advocating clean energy, renters' rights, affordable housing, farms and schools -- as well as more than 135 local elected officials -- previously called on the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to consider proposals from the utilities and the CPUC Public Advocate that would make it almost impossible for their constituencies to benefit from solar roofs and battery storage. The main recommendation in these letters was to maintain a distinction between self-generated electricity consumed on-site and energy exported to the grid.
In addition to individual elected officials from across the state, local jurisdictions also opposed the utility companies' proposals.
A recent resolution passed by the Oakland City Council calls on the CPUC and Gov. Newsom to "oppose all proposals designed to impede or destroy the ability of multifamily tenants and schools to take advantage of local, renewable and affordable energy through solar rooftops and to secure battery storage.”
Instead, the city council urged the CPUC to "approve a net energy metering rate for multi-family homes and schools that includes full credits and savings for multi-family tenants and schools from customer-generated energy."