CPUC Solar NEM Battle
June 22, 2021

Just two weeks after the California solar industry defeated Assembly Bill 1139, a broad coalition of solar advocates were back in action on June 16 to deliver a strong message to the CPUC: You’ve chosen the wrong side in the battle against Net Energy Metering (NEM)! Solar advocates were joined briefly on the steps outside the CPUC in San Francisco by the “Utility Profit Grab Man,” whose approved appearance was unexpectedly reversed after event organizers were ordered to remove him.

CPUC Against Distributed Solar

Undaunted, community leaders decried the apathetic, illogical, and counterproductive stance taken by the CPUC in Draft Resolution 5150. This would reduce the financial incentives on rooftop solar by more than half and do so more than six months ahead of the NEM-3 tariff review scheduled for January 2020. If successful, this tactic would effectively prevent the public from reviewing and debating the significant changes to utility rates, which is customary. The event concluded with the delivery of over 27,000 signatures from California voters against any changes to the existing NEM 1.0 and 2.0 plans upon which current and future solar adopters and the California solar industry depend.

By siding with the utility companies, the CPUC could push the citizen out of the self-generation energy market and seriously curtail California’s ability to meet its emissions goals. Every other year since it was adopted in 2005, the State of California’s Avoided Cost Calculator (ACC) has been adjusted with new data. Though this year is supposed to be an “off year”, during which no substantive changes to the ACC can occur, the CPUC’s hand-picked consultant (with utility approval) has introduced radical changes to the ACC that they hope to slide through without the mandated scrutiny of a proper public process.  Among the key calculations is an estimate of how much utility costs would fall for every MW of distributed solar expected to be installed in the coming year. The higher the number, the lower the solar credits will be for grid-tied NEM customers.

CPUC Against CA Solar

The E3 estimate forwarded for consideration in Draft Resolution 5150 claims 30 GW of utility-scale solar will be installed in 2022. Setting aside the fact that a typical large-scale project often takes 5 years or more to develop, the total amount of utility-scale solar installed in California during 2020 was only about 2.3 GW! How exactly do the utilities get from 2.3 GW to 7.5 GW in a single year? Furthermore, SEIA reports that the total amount of all solar installed in California as of June 15, 2021 is only 31.9 GW. The 2021 ACC is a numbers fantasy cooked up by the utilities in league with their favorite consultant, aimed at destroying rooftop solar with absurd projections that overestimate 2022 utility-scale solar by at least a factor of 3!

One of the more disturbing aspects of Resolution 5150 is the effect it would have on NEM-3 tariffs for affordable housing non-profits that have already invested heavily in solar. Mary Murtagh, a 33-year veteran with EAH Housing explained that over the next 20 years, solar could directly save their 25,000+ residents $20 million dollars, provided NEM-3 is not rendered useless by the 2021 ACC. EAH has installed 5 MW of solar on 48 housing projects and has plans to add another 2 MW on an additional 12 projects. In 2009, Sun Light & Power installed 900 kW of solar for EAH at the Crescent Park community in Richmond. At that time, this was the largest solar installation for an affordable housing project in America. The money EAH saved with solar allowed them to refinance Crescent Park and build the first computer center for low income people in the Western United States.

The CPUC is scheduled to vote on the adoption of the flawed 2020 ACC on June 24 without public comment. The employee owners at Sun Light & Power urge you to follow CALSSA’s instructions to make your voice heard. Follow this link and click on the gray “Add Public Comment” button to add your comments today. The CPUC has positioned itself to help the big three utilities monopolize solar power generation and transmission. Don’t allow the CPUC to disenfranchise the citizen from achieving energy independence and reduce our ability to lower greenhouse gas emissions.


Seamas Brennan is Marketing Coordinator at Sun Light & Power.

Correction: This blog was corrected on June 24, 2021 to reflect a change in the overestimate by the ACC for 2022. The figure has been reduced to 7.5 GW from 30 GW, which suggests an overestimate by a factor of 3 rather than 10. The E3 study projects 30 GW of utility-scale solar will go online in California by 2025 not 2022.

UPDATE: On June 24, 2021, the CPUC voted unanimously in favor of Resolution 5150 to adopt the 2022 ACC.

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