Southern California Edison new rate plan jeopardizes renewable energy

By Brett Bouchy, Special to CALmatters

California leads the nation in renewable energy. Almost 20 percent of the state’s total energy is derived from renewable solar. We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do for our communities. It lowers long-term energy costs while staving off the damage done by climate change.

Why then, is Southern California Edison moving forward with a plan that will make solar less attractive for homeowners?

Californians want to make an investment in renewable energy and encourage electricity usage during times when it is being sourced from non-renewable sources.

But upcoming changes to Southern California Edison’s “time-of-use” rate plans would  discourage solar adoption in pursuit of short-term profits when we should be ensuring that renewable energy is embraced by as many as possible.

When a home with solar panels produces more energy than it uses that energy surplus is fed back into the grid and the homeowner is credited for it by their power company.

California’s power companies have rolled out a “time-of-use” system designed to promote energy use during the hours where clean electricity is abundant due to overproduction by solar systems and when energy usage by air conditioners and home electronics are at their peak. This means less energy wasted and more value delivered to solar homeowners.

For SCE customers who have solar energy, this means they currently enjoy peak time on Monday through Friday, from 2 p.m.-8 p.m. During these times, the cost of energy from the grid is the highest, but so is the amount that SCE will pay homeowners if they overproduce. Because these are generally the sunniest hours of the day, solar homeowners tend to come out ahead.

This is all about to change this month when these peak times will be pushed back to 4 p.m. through 9 p.m., a less efficient window of time for solar.

For solar homeowners, this means fewer opportunities to sell their energy surpluses at the best price and a bigger chunk of the day they in which they will pay higher costs for energy used when solar systems are in the dark or less efficient.

This will make home solar systems a less attractive investment at a time when we need to increase the adoption of renewable energy on a mass scale, especially if we seek to meet the state’s new renewables mandate.

In Northern California, Pacific Gas & Electric is in bankruptcy, largely because of devastating wildfires linked to high voltage transmission lines that run through forests. Rooftop solar could lead to less liability for utilities by reducing the need for risky, fire-prone power lines.

By making rooftop solar less appealing and more expensive for homeowners, Southern California Edison is taking a shortsighted view of California’s energy needs and its own long-term business viability.

When time-of-use rates were introduced, they were supposed to promote renewable sources at the times of day when renewable, solar energy is more abundant and energy needs are highest.

The solar industry broadly supported time-of-use billing because, if implemented correctly, it allows consumers more control over their energy costs and helps encourage investment in renewables.

But when utilities such as Southern California Edison manipulate the rates so that peak times do not align with energy abundant times of day, they are artificially devaluing the energy created by the homeowners making the investment in renewable energy. It’s a move that is bad for business, bad for homeowners and bad for California.

Brett Bouchy is chief executive officer of Freedom Forever, a rooftop solar energy company based in Temecula, [email protected]. He wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

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