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Changes For New Solar Customers to Affect Our Communities

California State Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Proposed Statewide Policy Changes for new Solar Customers to Affect Small Mountain Communities

NORTH FORK — Most local residents either know someone who has solar or has already made the switch themselves.

The benefits of turning sunshine into electricity have intrigued anyone who enjoys physics and chemistry, or more broadly, anyone who pays a local power bill, which has more than doubled in the last 10 years for the average home. However, the benefits of how Solar saves money for the average resident are about to change if California’s new proposed net energy metering successor tariff program goes into effect.

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Let’s provide some background, shall we?

For the last 26 years, anyone who installs solar on their house can push excess electricity to the grid (when it’s not being consumed by the home) and receive full credit for each kilowatt hour. This happens during the day when the sun is at its highest point and people are at work with few electrical items running other than the refrigerator.  This means that whatever Pacific Gas & Electric or Southern California Edison charges for a unit of power, they must also provide the same equivalent credit value to a customer when pushed to the grid, effectively running the meter backward.

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Solar Batteries

This is what allows customers to install solar on their homes without a paired battery storage unit, and still achieve almost 100% offset of their electricity bill, minus a few small monthly grid charges. However, the California Public Utility Commission recently released a new set of policies that would cut the value of exported power from solar systems on homes by up to 50%. The fundamentals of the utility commissions position are that the current solar rules are unfairly disproportionate in favorability of lower-income state residents. This is because the maintenance of the utility grid is sustained by those who are paying higher bills to utility companies.

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On the other side of the debate are stakeholders in the renewable energy and solar industries who argue that the current policies are what have allowed solar to grow at such a sustainable rate over the last 15 years. These stakeholders include contractors and professionals who rely on the high demand for solar installations for their livelihoods. The proposed changes would have a significant impact on the viability and financial payback of putting in a standalone system without paired battery storage.

This brings us to the Sierra Nevada Mountain Communities.

Over the last several years many residents have been significantly affected by the mandatory power shut off‘s implemented by the state of California to reduce the risk of wildfire. As a result, the demand for standalone generators and solar and battery backup systems has increased tenfold according to local sources in the business.

“Frankly, people are tired of being dependent on the utility grid to ensure that they have power which affects basic needs like the ability to keep their food cold, and oftentimes they’re water source because they have a residential well, and they are looking for alternatives,” says a local business owner who sells and installs such backup power and solar systems in the area.

However, often times the cost of installing a system capable of backing up an entire home can be cost-prohibitive.

Federal tax credits can assist in reducing the cost of such systems, and purchases are often financed through a bank with a long-term fixed monthly payment to make the project and system cost more digestible. However, the foundation of this approach has always been the fact that achieving a monthly power bill that is close to zero after installation of a solar system is what makes the proposition of this technology and its cost to be worth the risk for homeowners.

This fact could change very soon.

The proposed decision by the CPUC is expected to be voted on by the CPUC Commissioners as early as the December 15, 2022 business meeting. If adopted, the changes will go into effect 120 days after implementation. This would provide homeowners a brief window to lock in for 20 years the opportunity for savings under the current policies which have been favorable to homeowners since 1995.

For utility customers in and around Yosemite national park, this has become top of mind after recent disasters Like the creek fire of 2020 and the Oakfire in 2022 near Mariposa.  Either way, these changes will bring in a new chapter in the story of the adoption of renewable energy systems in the community and across the entire state.



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