If there’s one that thing most of our government leaders can agree upon, it’s solar energy. Nowhere is that more apparent than in California, where Democratic Senator Scott Weiner and Republican Senator Jim Nielsen announced the Solar Bill of Rights (S288).
This bill was created in 2019 to remove obstacles to going solar in California. These include:
- Outdated compensation models that don’t reflect solar’s contributions to the energy grid
- Anti-competitive policies that delay connections to the grid for months or even years.
Removal of these obstacles would greatly benefit both businesses and homeowners who go solar.
In this blog post, we’ll explore:
- Who is impacted by the Solar Bill of Rights
- Opponents of the Solar Bill of Rights
- The content of the Solar Bill of Rights
- What happened to the Solar Bill of Rights
Who is impacted by the Solar Bill of Rights?
The players in this game are:
Legislators — In addition to the main authors of the bill (Senators Weiner and Nielsen), S288 was sponsored by a number of elected officials.
Utility companies — The California Solar Bill of Rights applies to the big investor-owned utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric. It also applies to the smaller public utilities serving areas including Anaheim, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Pasadena, and Sacramento.
The enforcer —The California Public Utilities Commission is responsible for creating fair and sound regulations. These enable the goals of the Solar Bill of Rights to be achieved.
Who doesn't like solar?
Unfortunately, there are still plenty of legislators who are more interested in keeping the utilities happy than doing right by their constituents and the planet.
Utilities are the main opposition group to the Bill of Rights and to solar in general. Solar and other small-scale power generation projects are a major threat to the business model that has served them so well for decades.
Utility companies seldom put their customers’ interests first. For example, PG&E has increased their average residential rates by over 49% in just 3 years. More homeowners and businesses going solar would mean decreased revenue, and that simply won’t do for shareholder-driven PG&E.
What did the Solar Bill of Rights include?
The Solar Bill of Rights (S288) asserted the right of Californians to install solar panels on their properties in order to produce and store their own clean energy.
The Bill of Rights acknowledged the benefits to everyone when more solar energy systems are installed. These benefits include:
- Reduced emissions through clean energy
- Lower electricity bills for homeowners and business owners
- A more reliable and safe electricity grid for all
But California’s Solar Bill of Rights was more than just a token vote of support for solar. It called for action, including the following measures:
- No absurd fees — Utilities cannot impose unfair or discriminatory fees upon citizens seeking to connect their solar energy projects (also called photovoltaic or PV projects) to the utility grid.*
- No more red tape — Utility regulators must develop a standard, consistent, and streamlined process for approving and connecting solar to the grid. In other words, they can’t use a bunch of red tape to slow down your solar project.
- Fair compensation — Citizens must be compensated fairly for the excess electricity that they send into the grid, and that pricing formula must be outlined clearly.
*Note: The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is currently evaluating whether to approve utility companies’ request to increase fixed charges. If passed, these fees will override this legislation for Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison customers.
How is “fair” grid compensation determined for solar?
“Fair compensation” was intended to reflect solar’s contributions to a safer and more reliable electric grid in two main ways.
First, solar entails many widespread smaller generation sources. This “distributed generation” gives utility dispatchers more flexibility in a power outage, and therefore can reduce the impact of future outages.
Second, more solar increases “fuel diversity” which makes the electric grid stronger. It also helps keep prices down in the face of a shortage or price spike in natural gas or other fuel source.
What happened to the Solar Bill of Rights?
The Solar Bill of Rights was passed by the Senate Energy Committee in 2019. But not without some severe changes.
The Senate removed:
- Fee protection — The explicit protection of solar system owners against outrageous fees from utility companies
- Fair energy export rates — The requirement for utilities to take into account the benefits of solar to all when establishing the rate they pay for the energy they buy from solar owners
- Protections against red tape — The removal of barriers to participating in rooftop solar and batteries in wholesale markets
The version that passed still includes legislation requiring utilities to standardize and streamline interconnections for rooftop solar and batteries (solar energy storage). However, legislators removed the requirement for state bodies to monitor these standards. Additionally, regulators do not need to report how long interconnections take to complete.
The impact of NEM 3.0
The Solar Bill of Rights changes were also impacted by Net Energy Metering (NEM) 3.0, also referred to as Net Billing Tariff,” which took effect in April of 2023.
The key impact of NEM 3.0 was the reduced price utility companies pay California homeowners and businesses in exchange for their excess solar-generated energy. Specifically, NEM 3.0 reduced that price from around 30 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to around 8 cents per kWh.
While this is a severe decrease, it’s important to note that a properly-sized solar energy system will still provide a great return on investment and help property owners save on their energy costs.
Where do we go from here?
Although the watering down of the Solar Bill of Rights disappointed many, going solar is still a great decision for many Californians.
But if you’re considering solar, you need a trustworthy guide—not a pushy salesperson. We at Citadel are happy to serve as that guide for thousands of California homeowners and business owners.
If you have questions about going solar in California, we can help. Get in touch now.