Small-scale solar energy producers are still waiting for their PG&E payout.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
The 5-kilowatt photovoltaic array in Roger Manley’s Pasadera backyard is more than enough to cover the electricity his own home uses. And he’d be getting paid for the difference soon, if it weren’t for a bureaucratic lag.
Under the state’s Net Energy Metering program, “customer-generators” like Manley get electricity bill credits for the power they generate over a 12-month period. But the original program didn’t let them cash in on the surplus power they fed into the grid.
That changed with the 2009 adoption of AB 920, which requires utility companies to pay owners of small solar and wind facilities for excess electricity production. The payouts were scheduled to begin last January.
But eligible customers are still waiting for their checks.
The California Public Utilities Commission missed its Jan. 1 deadline for setting the AB 920 compensation rate, and postponed the decision at its May 26 meeting. The commission is set to revisit the issue June 9, according to CPUC spokesman Andrew Kotch.
Solar customers shouldn’t hold their breath: Pacific Gas & Electric Co. will then revise its net metering rate, and CPUC has to approve that as well. Then it’ll probably take another two months for PG&E to cut checks, according to company spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo.
“We are ready to pay our customers once that rate is approved,” she adds.
About 50,000 homes and businesses in California use solar power to lower their energy costs, Paulo says. Almost 800 are in Monterey County, and 742 of those are residential. She estimates 10-15 percent are eligible for compensation.
Renewable energy advocates have framed AB 920 as a tipping point in small solar production.
“[Before], most people designed their systems not to overproduce because there’s no incentive,” says Rolf Ridge of Pacific Grove-based Applied Solar Energy. Now, he’s seeing customers going bigger with their photovoltaics. “The fact that PG&E was going to give them some money made it an easier decision.”
Manley says his true-up statement last month – a year after his system went online – showed $500 worth of surplus electricity, but the check isn’t in the mail.
“I have no idea when it’s coming,” he says, “or if it ever will.”