Photo Courtesy SolarCity

Governor Brown Signs AB 327

By Roy L Hales

Screen-shot-2014-03-18-at-3.43.47-PM1Governor Brown has signed AB 327. Despite the initial solar vs utilities flare-up, the final version of AB 327 was something that most parties on both sides could agree on. One of the passages that many found offensive – authorization for the CPUC to approve a flat rate of up to $10 on all residential customers of California’s biggest utilities, regardless of whether they draw that much power from the grid – remains. The CPUC now has to determine a compensation structure for people whose solar feeds the grid and there are many who argue that the terms of their investments should not be changed mid-stream.

According to  Arturo Carmona, Executive Director of the Latino group Presente.org, “The debate now shifts to the Public Utilities Commission where implementation of key portions of the bill, including the fees will be decided on. It will be important that the public does not lose sight of the big utility lobby’s true motivations. These charges have always been more about putting billions of dollars into the pockets of the big utility companies rather than anything else. The new charges stand to affect low income communities who are already struggling to pay their bills and those that are already doing their part to conserve energy. California’s solar jobs, energy savings, and the state’s entire clean energy economy are all at stake.”

Yet, as a spokesperson for The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) told San Diego Loves Green, “The landmark bill that will provide much-needed stability for California’s rooftop solar industry. AB 327 achieves the following:

  • Removes the suspension on net metering that would have gone into effect at the end of year.
  • Eliminates uncertainly over how the current net metering cap is calculated.
  • Provides a framework for removing the net metering cap altogether.
  • Removes the 33% ceiling on the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.”
Governor Jerry Brown
Governor Jerry Brown

Before Governor Brown signed this legislation, he wrote a letter to the Members of the California State Assembly stating,

“I am signing Assembly Bill 327.

“This comprehensive rate reform legislation provides the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) with the necessary Authority to address current electricity rate inequities, protect low-income energy users and maintain robust incentives for renewable energy investments.

“Specifically, the bill gives the CPUC the authority to craft a new electricity rate structure while increasing statutory discounts for qualified low-income customers. It also requires the electric utilities to develop distribution infrastructure plans to ensure that ratepayer dollars are being utilized in the most efficient way possible. Finally the bill makes it clear that California’s 33% Renewable Portfolio Standard is a floor, not a ceiling.

“As the CPUC considers rules regarding grandfathering of net meter customers, I expect the Commission to ensure that customers who took service under net metering prior to reaching the statutory net metering cap on or before July 1, 2017, are protected under those rules for the expected life of their systems.”

There still appears to be some concern about the impact of AB 327 and it will undoubtedly not be too long before the utilities companies impose the $10 a month flat rate this legislation allows, but the solar industries comments about this legislation now sound favourable:

SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch applauded, “SEIA applauds Gov. Brown for his unwavering commitment to clean energy.  His efforts to reduce carbon emissions across California will have a positive and profound impact on the state’s future.  This law provides a clear pathway for the continued growth of solar generation in California, which ranks #1 in the nation in total installed solar capacity with 3,761 megawatts (MW) – three times more than any other state.  What’s more, solar now provides nearly 44,000 good-paying jobs across the state, while saving money for hundreds of thousands of Californians on their utility bills.  Gov. Brown should be congratulated for recognizing the importance of clean solar energy to both California’s economy and its environment.”

“What AB 327 does is removes the net metering cap that would have inhibited many Californians from realizing the inherent economic benefits of harnessing power from the sun as a means to improve properties, slash energy costs and create a hedge against inevitable utility bill increases,” said Dave Steele of PURE Solar Power. “This is an important day for the solar industry, and for the home and business owners we serve.”

“From a business perspective, this allows the state’s solar contractors to be confident with long range planning for their businesses.  Now we know the incentives surrounding solar energy won’t be denied to property owners.  This gives solar companies like mine more confidence in the long-range planning for our business, i.e. forecasting employee hires and growth opportunities, which in turn contributes to the health and sustainability of the industry,” said Pekka Laine, President of Photon Solar Power, Inc.

But the best explanation of AB 327 came from Terri Steele of Figtree PACE, who emailed me, “Can you feel that breeze, Roy?  It’s the entire solar industry in California breathing a sigh of RELIEF!!”

(Photo at top of page: Courtesy SolarCity)

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