Utilities Turn Up Heat on Solar Rooftops
by Matthew Sperling
A war against progress is being waged by some of this country’s largest companies. The battle is over our civilization’s most essential service: electricity.
California is a leading battleground, as evidenced by the top story in the Los Angeles Business Journal’s Aug. 12 edition (“Solar Feels Heat From State Fee”). Reporter Howard Fine writes that California’s three biggest utilities are pushing for a fee of $5 to $10 to be added to customers’ monthly electric bills.
Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and San Diego Gas and Electric claim the fee will “offset the loss of revenue from customers who switch to solar power.”
This attempt to stick their hands in the public’s pocket is part of a nationwide effort by large electric utilities. A July 26 New York Times story (“On Rooftops, a Rival for Utilities”) begins: “For years, power companies have watched warily as solar panels have sprouted across the nation’s rooftops. Now, in almost panicked tones, they are fighting hard to slow the spread.”
I am among the utility customers who have been collateral damage in the power companies’ war against solar power. In April, Sun Pacific Solar in Santa Barbara installed our solar energy system and backup batteries. The city inspector declared our system was one of the nicest he’d ever seen.
The installer went to Edison to have us connected to the electrical grid. After at least a decade of allowing systems like ours to be connected, this time Edison said no. We would not be welcome to provide power to the grid and to be assured of power during a blackout.
Our $21,000 system – the cost after incentives and tax breaks – has been off line for four months. Power is in greatest demand during the summer, but we are not allowed to sell our excess energy to Edison under the state’s net energy metering program. I have been told that many other power-generating systems in various stages of completion have been knocked for a loop by Edison’s actions.
The California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission have mostly disappeared into the bureaucratic woodwork. The president of the CPUC, Michael R. Peevey, was also president of Edison for three years, strengthening any claims that he has a conflict of interest.
The state’s largest utilities have agreed not to connect any solar systems with backup batteries and might revisit systems that have already been connected. What is the rather dead, smelly red herring they have tossed in the water and declared to be a terrifying shark chomping away at their profits?
In a letter dated June 28, Deon M. Hall, the review manager of Edison’s consumer affairs department, wrote that design changes in certain solar equipment do not allow “the energy from the renewable and nonrenewable resources to be separately metered.” The implication is that customers would buy electricity during less expensive times then sell it back to the utility for a profit.
And here is what a regulatory rubber stamp looks like. On July 3, Paul Harris, on behalf of the CPUC consumer affairs branch, referred to Edison’s June 28 letter, then wrote to a customer with a solar energy-and-battery-backup system: “Per Southern California Edison, the issue is with battery pack that renews itself via Edison’s grid, which would allow that energy to export back to the grid, which would cause you to receive inappropriate credit.”
Harris stated that the case was closed, unless Edison’s customers provided “new evidence.” The company has yet to provide any evidence that the equipment in question does what Edison says it does.
The state’s regulators parroted a theory circulated without proof by a major utility – funny thing for a “public” utility commission to do.
When monopolies control a marketplace, competition, progress and people suffer. A company has a monopoly when it can treat its customers badly, knowing those customers will find it difficult or impossible to obtain that company’s goods or services elsewhere.
Large utilities spend huge amounts of capital on generators, transmission lines and the other machinery needed to deliver electricity across often-great distances. A solar power system delivers the same product starting with a few panels on the top of one roof.
California is a leader in renewable energy and the state will not benefit from attempts to turn back the clock.
In support of an energy-producing model that better protects the environment, I helped start Backup – Better Action by Citizens for Kilowatts of Uninterruptible Power. Our website and first major action – a campaign to contact elected and other public officials – is in the planning stages.
Matthew Sperling, a self-employed writer and investor, was born in Los Angeles.
Reprinted from Los Angeles Business Journal 9/6/13 issue.
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