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California PUC Rules in Favor of Net-Metering

California net-metering gained a resounding victory on Thursday when the state's Public Utilities Commission voted 5-0 to accept a proposal that clarifies how utilities should measure the net-metering cap.

While the ruling dealt with the arcane language within the original law, the clarified interpretation is expected to provide a long-term boost to the state’s residential market.

The issue has proven to be a major sticking point between the solar industry — especially those in California — and the state’s powerful utilities, which have argued that accepting more net-metered solar would hurt ratepayers.

PUC Chairman Michael Peevey submitted the approved proposal in April. As written, the law caps net metering at 5 percent of “aggregate customer peak demand.” After that, there is no guarantee that utilities will allow new solar customers to sell their unused power back to the grid. The question thus far has been in how utilities have chosen to interpret the law.

The implications of the ruling can be measured in gigawatts. A change in methodology is projected to allow a cumulative capacity of 4,600 megawatts of mostly residential installations. That figure, which also includes a limited amount of small commercial projects that qualify for net-metering, would be about 2,100 megawatts higher than had the law not been clarified.

Sara Birmingham, the Solar Energy Industries Association Director of Western States, released the following statement after the vote:

“This decision is a positive step forward for clean energy jobs, for ratepayers, and for our state.

“The commissioners noted that there is wide disagreement on the issues related to the cost shift between solar and non-solar customers. SEIA looks forward to working with stakeholders on the study of costs and benefits, and believes the study will report these costs as minimal.

“We are hopeful the Commission will resolve additional technical issues raised by the decision to ensure the growth of solar energy jobs in California and maintaining our state’s leadership in this sector.

“On behalf of the solar industry, residential customers, schools, businesses and more than 60,000 Californians who urged the PUC to make solar energy credits more widely available and to boost one of our brightest job-creating industries, we thank the Governor and the Commissioners for their support today.”

image: Home with Solar Power via Shutterstock

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