Solar advocates rally to stop policy change that would reduce rebates

Dozens rallied in the rain in San Francisco Thursday over the future of rooftop solar as California regulators proposed changes to incentives for home solar systems.

They called on the California Public Utilities Commission to reject a plan to update to the net energy metering policy that they argue makes it more affordable for consumers to invest in panels and earn credits for excess energy produced.

Under the proposed commission decision, it would lessen the subsidies for installing rooftop panels, which solar companies warned would cripple the industry and deter people from moving toward clean energy.

"It’s too far, it’s too extreme," solar consumer Danny Ames of Brisbane said.

Protestors say another sticking point is the reduction of energy credits by 75%.

"This is a solar cliff. It’s too much, too fast," said Josua Buswell-Charkow with the California Solar and Storage Association. "For people who want to invest in solar, it’s going to be a lot more expensive."

Solar panels are on 1.5 million California homes. Some of those customers sell extra energy they aren’t using back to the power company for credit on their bills.

Utilities have said the incentives are so generous that solar customers aren’t paying their fair share for the overall cost of the electric grid.

Roughly $4 billion in costs are shifted from solar to non-solar customers, according to a utility-backed coalition called Affordable Clean Energy for All.

"The subsidies are being paid for by everyone else who doesn’t have solar panels," spokesperson Kathy Fairbanks said. "The poor are subsidizing the rich and this is getting out of hand. We would just like to see the program more equitable."

Fairbanks, like the solar industry, agrees the policy is flawed, but argues it doesn’t go far enough to help no-solar customers including renters and those in disadvantaged communities.

People who already have solar panels and storage systems would not see a change to their bill credits; the plan would only affect new customers.

When solar customers pay very low bills, due to credits, they are paying less into the over energy grid. The solar industry argues that number doesn’t take into account the contributions to grid reliability and other benefits that rooftop solar provides.

"It’s going to destroy our industry," said Bob Winn who owns a San Ramon solar company. "It’s going to reduce the incentives that make it possible and attractive for people to go solar."

The new proposal lessens how much money people get for selling their extra energy. But it doesn’t include a solar-specific fee that utilities wanted.

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It creates new financial incentives for people to install home storage systems to capture extra solar energy during the day. It also changes electric rates to encourage people to export stored energy to the grid in the late afternoon and early evening, when the grid typically transitions from renewable sources to fossil fuels.

The public utilities commission has until mid-December to make a decision on the proposal. If approved, it wouldn’t take effect until at least April 2023.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @BrooksKTVU