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Solar Industry Gathers to Fight CPS Energy's SunCredit Program

In San Antonio, Texas, city-owned utility CPS Energy released a new program called the SunCredit, which will charge solar customers for all of the electricity they used — including what they produced from their own solar array — then credit back the solar electricity generated at 5.6 cents/kWh. What this means to existing and future solar installation customers is that a system that might otherwise pay for itself within ten years will now take fifteen or more years — economics that will not work in today's solar installation market.

Compare this “proposed” change to Austin Energy’s Value of Solar Program that also charges its solar customers for the power they consume — its solar customers currently get a 12.8 cents/kWh credit.  This type of program makes solar affordable for the individual owner in Austin, but SunCredit essentially brings San Antonio distributed generation projects to a screeching halt. 

The SunCredit program has caused backlash in the solar community, and on Wednesday, April 17th, over 60 solar stakeholders were present for a strategy session hosted by Solar San Antonio and lead by its executive director Lanny Sinkin. The meeting gave the solar community a media forum for addressing the impact of CPS Energy’s SunCredit program. 

Just ten minutes prior to the start of the meeting, Lanny Sinkin received word from Cris Eugster, CPS Energy’s executive vice president and chief strategy and technology officer, that the “proposed” window for discussions had been extended from the original deadline of 27 April (allowing less than a month for the industry to react) to 31 May, and that any projects in the CPS rebate queue by 31 May would be grandfathered under the old system for ten years.  It was considered unlikely by those at the meeting that the extension would sustain the infant industry past the 31st of May. 

Mr. Sinkin brought up several key points from solar stakeholders before the meeting.  Although everyone there was going to be impacted in some way by the SunCredit program, it appears that San Antonio would be the biggest loser.  Under the leadership of Mayor Julian Castro, solar energy has been a key part of his “new energy economy for San Antonio” as described in the SA2020 Strategic Plan

Companies such as Kaco New Energy, Inc (who was represented at the meeting), based their decision to locate in San Antonio on what they believed would be a vibrant solar industry as envisioned by SA2020.  The SA2020 plan was preceded by the San Antonio City Council’s approval of a rate increase to CPS electricity ratepayers to fund rebates for solar energy and energy efficiency projects — stimulus that KACO saw as vital to the success of their San Antonio operations.  Under SunCredit, the rebates would still be offered, however solar energy customers (but not other forms of energy efficiency customers) would pay over time for the privilege of owning their systems.  According to professionals at the meeting, the SunCredit program, at the very least, may violate the intent of City Council to grow a grassroots solar industry in the City.

Several proposals were approved by the solar stakeholders to be presented to the San Antonio City Council, which included: 

  • Immediate cancellation of the SunCredit initiative, as it is an unapproved rate increase to a targeted group of rate payers — those who have invested in solar energy systems.
  • CPS and Solar San Antonio should work together to formalize discussions addressing the concerns of the industry
  • CPS work within the boundaries intended by their city mandates

“I think there is a unity of the solar industry that the SunCredit Program is not going to solve the problems raised by CPS Energy, and the program needs to be cancelled,” said Sinkin at the conclusion of the meeting. “We need to really get together to address the higher level issues of how this utility company transitions from being an old paradigm utility into a new grid manager/smart technology utility without doing a lot of damage along the way; and how they (CPS Energy) will help to support a thriving solar industry that is going to provide them with the electrical power they will eventually be buying for their smart grid.”

As the debate continues, the eyes of a much larger national solar industry are watching to see what precedent will be set by a utility that has been called the country’s leader in the solar energy industry.

Lead image: Boxing ring and bell via shutterstock

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