SolarCity Resumes Storage Applications After California Decision

SolarCity Corp., the largest U.S. solar-power provider by market value, will resume applications to connect energy-storage systems in California after regulators said they’re exempt from utility fees.

Utilities are barred from imposing charges including connection fees of as much as $800, the California Public Utility Commission said in a proposed decision yesterday. The commission typically adopts these proposed decisions and a final ruling may come as early as May 15.

SolarCity in March stopped applying to install and connect storage systems for hundreds of customers in the state because utilities were requiring a series of applications and fees that made the process onerous. Combining rooftop solar panels with batteries to retain the energy for later use makes people less dependent on local power companies, a potential threat to the utility monopoly.

“When we first started it wasn’t clear to us that these fees would be charged,” Peter Rive, chief commercial officer of San Mateo, California-based SolarCity, said in an interview. “We’re happy with the decision.”

Sempra Energy’s San Diego Gas & Electric Co. opposes the exemptions for storage in comments to the commission, saying in comments to the commission that the technology will shift some costs to customers without such systems. PG&E Corp.’s Pacific Gas & Electric Co. wants the exemptions only for residential customers and only for a trial period.

Grid Tool

Battery-storage systems at customer sites with solar panels should be welcomed by utilities as an additional tool to manage the grid and reduce costs for all consumers, Rive said. If hundreds of such systems were connected to the grid, a utility could tap the stored energy during periods of peak demand instead of building a new natural gas plant.

“There are massive benefits to including this storage on the grid,” Rive said. “There’s a misconception that we want to remove people from the grid. There’s a positive network benefit from storage.”

Storage will be an important part of the power grid as the utility industry evolves to take better advantage of renewable energy, Rive said in a blog post today.

SolarCity introduced a program to lease batteries to solar customers in California and New England last year through 10- year contracts that have no upfront costs. The company says customers will typically save more on demand charges than they will pay each month for the systems.

Lead image: Installing Solar on a house in California via Shutterstock

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg

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