“How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways………OK, I got it calculated. About a thousand ways. This is the sonnet that SDG&E would write about solar customers if it had the ability to write sonnets. Fortunately for all of us, SDG&E is not a Shakespeare or Barrett-Browning. But there is little doubt that SDG&E is a thinly-disguised frenemy of self-generation. Within the last two years, the utility has attempted to impose flat fees on solar customers (defeated by SDCAN’s director), impose a rate increase upon them (defeated) and now it is attempting to dramatically change its rates so as to make customers pay higher prices after the sun sets. Fortunately, this tactic will likely fail as well. But if there’s one takeaway from all of SDG&E’s machinations it is that this utility is not the friend of anyone who chooses to produce their own power.
In its most recent effort to squash solar, SDG&E has proposed to change the way in which it charges for power so as to charge higher rates for SDG&E customers who use power between 2pm-9pm. Current, the peak time period for customers on a time of use rate is 11am-6pm. SDG&E knows that most solar systems only produce power until around 6pm and it is little surprise that they seek to the “peak” usage period until well past when solar customers can use the sun to supplant SDG7E’s services. This is the issue in controversy in SDG&E’s most recent filing at the California Public Utilities Commission (A. 14-01-027). SDCAN has opposed SDG&E’s most recent application. SDG&E’s emnity towards rooftop solar comes from no less than a recently retired Public Utilities Commission commissioner who, in his departing speech, made it very clear that the utilities would “clearly like to strangle rooftop solar if they could.”
There’s little doubt that in the coming years, SDG&E will continue its assault upon customers who choose to produce their own power rather than pay SDG&E’s inflated electric rates. San Diego is a sun-kist region and that access to sun has SDG&E nervous about revenues. It has done the math and concluded that as more customers produce their own power, SDG&E’s clout is reduced and its profits drop. It has unfortunately chosen to combat solar by making it into a divisive “the poor are subsidizing the rich” issue. It has actively lobbied legislators using this class-warfare argument using numbers that show that solar imposes lots of costs and no benefits to the region. When Minnesota looked at this argument, recently, it concluded otherwise; the benefits of solar exceed the costs.
For now, San Diegans are protected by a governor who understands the promise of solar. Governor Jerry Brown has been an advocate for solar power for the better part of his life and he’s not buying SDG&E’s “sky-is-falling” doom and gloom. His appointees at the PUC understand the utilities’ animosity towards solar and have, so far, resisted the utility’s efforts to kill it. In hearings before the PUC, SDG&E has been vocal about the fact that San Diegans are increasingly embracing self-generation over paying SDG&E’s high rates. In an April 2, 2014 hearing, SDG&E was unabashed about its concerns about solar. It is worth a read for those who plan to install solar.
Fortunately, any SDG&E customer contemplating investing in solar or any other self-generation need not be fearful. For the next four-six years, state regulators will protect this investment. In the long-term, it continues to be the best way of regaining control over your power costs. But when SDG&E tells you that it is here to help you, be forewarned that it only seeks to serve those customers it can control. If you choose to get your power elsewhere, don’t count on your local utility to be your friend.