Who is this woman and
why is she attacking solar?
In case you had any doubts, the attack on the underpinnings of the solar industry - net metering - has begun in earnest as evidenced by this Declaration of War from PG&E’s “Chief Customer Officer,” Helen Burt. The only question now is, how will the industry respond?
In a recent post on the PG&E website, Ms. Burt continues the populist attack on solar, claiming that solar customers who use net metering (essentially every residential solar customer and all but the very largest commercial customers) are not paying “their fair share.”
Here’s her take:
When customers install solar and use Net Energy Metering, they avoid paying their fair share of the electricity grid they use at night and of various programs that further California’s environmental and social policies. Remaining utility customers pay for the fixed costs of the electricity grid and other programs, driving their rates higher.
Frankly, this is simply nonsense. All customers, including those who install solar and use net metering, are billed the same way to cover the costs mentioned by Ms. Burt. But here’s the thing, the amount of that payment is tied to energy usage - the more kilowatt-hours you consume in a billing period, the more you pay for grid maintenance. Is that the proper way to cover the cost of fixed assets? Perhaps not, but one thing is for sure, it wasn’t the solar customers who designed PG&E’s rate structure.
So guess what? If you invest in LED bulbs for your home or a more efficient HVAC system on your commercial building, you will lower the amount of energy you consume - and hence you will lower the amount you contribute to covering these same costs. Is that also unfair?
As we reported at the time, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is performing a study now to try and assess the true cost-benefit equation from solar net metering and recently the folks at Vote Solar commissioned their own study which found a net benefit to all ratepayers - including those who do not install solar. Ms. Burt dismisses those results as “predictable” - that is biased - without ever bothering to point out that the state’s public utilities, including PG&E, had previously released their own study, with just as “predictable” results.
Regardless of how the CPUC’s study turns out, Ms. Burt makes clear that PG&E is going to continue their assault on solar: “PG&E is working with the CPUC and Legislature to find solutions for customer solar installations that mitigate or eliminate these cross-subsidies from nonsolar customers to others." Translation? “We intend to do everything in our power - using ratepayers’ money - to eliminate net metering!”
In PG&E’s view, they should receive any excess energy production from solar customers - which they immediately sell to the solar customer’s neighbors at full retail rates - for free. Nice deal if you can get it - but is that fair?
Of course at bottom is the simple truth that solar installations are increasing throughout California and utilities like PG&E know that as solar costs come down, they are going to start losing more and more revenue. Since distributed generation reduces their peak load, they have less and less justification to build more generation capacity, which is the basis for their guaranteed returns. In a world where many more utility customers can afford to install solar, this is simply not a sustainable business model. So PG&E is doing what every dying industry does - attacking the “fairness” of the competitor that is eroding their bottom line.
It will be up to the CPUC, the Legislature - and ultimately the solar industry - to see that the faux populism of utilities like PG&E is unmasked for what it is - naked self-interest.