Technicians install solar panels on the roof of a house in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Oct. 25, 2013. (Mario Anzuoni/File Photo/Reuters)
A proposed decision announced on Aug. 2 would impact apartment buildings, schools, and farms that utilize solar power by changing tariff rules for properties with more than one meter.
If confirmed with a vote by the commission scheduled for Sept. 21, properties with multiple meters would be forced to sell energy to utility companies at discounted rates and repurchase the power at retail prices.
Solar panels connect in a series, known as a solar array, with some systems utilizing battery storage to provide power when no solar energy is produced.
Electric meters attached to the solar systems measure the usage in a similar manner to residential electric meters, allowing utility companies to monitor power produced and consumed by households and businesses.
The proposal is strongly opposed by at least 135 elected officials, solar power associations, schools, farms, and a long list of organizations representing various businesses and ideologies, who say the only beneficiaries of the new arrangement are public utility companies that stand to profit millions of dollars annually as a result of the change.
passed unanimously by the Oakland City Council in July found that the decision “[violates] the principles of equity, sustainability, and energy security” and is “a patently absurd and unfair proposal,” as it treats customers with one electric meter differently than those with multiple ones.
Workers install solar panels during the completion phase of a four-acre solar rooftop atop AltaSea's research and development facility at the Port of Los Angeles on April 21, 2023. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
The council suggested that the governor and utilities commission reject the proposal and any such “that seek to frustrate or dismantle the ability of multifamily tenants and schools to avail themselves of the benefits of local, renewable, and affordable energy through rooftop solar and battery storage.”
At issue are rule changes to a 2008 decision
that established affordable solar power for multifamily housing. The proposal would eliminate reduced special rates offered for specified periods of time provided to properties with more than one meter attached to one solar system.
Approximately 37,000 renters in California currently benefit from solar power in multifamily units, and the number could climb to 200,000 by 2030, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.
Schools and farms routinely have more than one meter, and the proposed rules would present a disadvantage for such properties, according to experts.
“In each of these cases, it is impractical for the customer to install a separate solar array and battery for each meter,” officials representing municipalities across the state wrote in a letter to the utility commission after the proposal was announced. “The solar tariffs should continue to allow customers to install solar and storage systems for the energy needs of the property as a whole.”
Opponents say the proposal weakens the solar power industry at a time when businesses are reeling from changes to residential solar power tariffs—known as net energy metering (NEM) 3.0—enacted by the utility commission in April and also because of higher interest rates that make loans for new installations less attractive.
NEM 3.0 changed the rate that homeowners receive for power sold to utility companies by approximately 75 percent, and installers across the state say new business is down by more than 40 percent since the decision was made.
The L.A. Live construction project at left rises in the distance as 1,727 solar panels cover the rooftop of the then-Staples Center sports complex, now known as Crypto.com Arena, in Los Angeles on Oct. 28, 2008. (David McNew/Getty Images)
Those who installed solar panels on their single-family homes prior to the rate changes are grandfathered in and are exempt from the new policies. However, this exemption is lost if more panels are added to their array, as per the new regulations.
One such homeowner says the desire to expand but not lose the status they had under previous iterations of NEM—which guaranteed 20 years of tariff protection—is a predicament many find themselves in, as some installed undersized systems and are now stuck with them if they want to keep their rates lower.
“I got lucky and was able to add 49 panels ... back in 2020, so I don’t need to add any more,” Larry Shankle, who lives with his wife, Mary, in their Stockton home, told The Epoch Times. “You really have to watch your installer, because the first company recommended we only put in 18.”
The complicated nature of the text and changes to existing regulations is mentioned in the 244-page document, with arguments from multiple parties as to how best to notify the public.
Complexity and unfamiliar terminology make communicating pertinent information to consumers more troublesome, according to Mr. Shankle.
“It’s like they make it difficult to understand,” he said.