Solar Power Shines on
by Morgan Lee
Millions of apartment dwellers and home renters across California will soon be able to go solar, under programs authorized Thursday by state utility regulators.
Though any residential customer can sign up, the effort is geared toward utility customers who don't own the roof overhead or may not want to tack on solar panels to their property. In some instances, homes are overshadowed by trees and other buildings, or rooflines may simply face the wrong way.
Power customers who sign up with the state's investor-owned utilities would help ensure the construction of additional solar power plants to meet their energy needs.
"The program gives customers the option to meet up to 100 percent of their electricity needs with renewable energy," explained state Utilities Commissioner Mike Florio. "Customers have the options to purchase from a pool of renewable resources or from a specific renewable project. Giving customers this option is a good thing and I hope the program will be well-subscribed."
Homeowners in San Diego are flocking to rooftop solar, and dramatically reducing their utility bills in the process. Those solar customers are credited at the full retail rate for electricity they deliver to the grid, though reforms are pending that would rein in the incentives.
Under the new solar programs, utility customers who opt in may pay more than they would otherwise for electricity, a spokeswoman for the state utilities commission said.
Amber Albrecht of San Diego Gas & Electric said that "the price is going to be based on the cost of the solar energy project, which could be a higher energy rate." She said rates could benefit from economies of scale as more customers join.
A representative for SunEdison, a major U.S. solar provider with headquarters in Belmont, predicted low participation in the program and a failed market.
"The complexity of the bill credit system for the program destroys the value proposition for the customer," said Dan Lieberman, community solar solutions manager for SunEdison.
Florio said the commission had to follow legislation prohibiting new solar subsidies paid for by nonsolar customers. The utilities commission approved the program 5-0.
"Today's decision is not the final word," Florio said. "We will be flexible and consider modifications."
Under the rules, SDG&E plans to roll out two new customer options. One, called Sunrate, would let customers buy solar energy through SDG&E from various solar projects located in San Diego, Imperial and southern Orange counties.
Another option, Share the Sun, would allow customers to acquire power produced by a specific, nearby solar energy system to cover all or part of their electricity use. Those customers would receive a bill credit for the value of the solar power their portfolio produces.
Separately, state subsidies have helped at least 39 low-income housing complexes in the San Diego region add rooftop solar since 2008.
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