The Encinitas City Council unanimously voted Wednesday night to oppose San Diego Gas and Electric’s (SDG&E) proposed rate restructure, which would increase costs for customers who use solar energy — and many argue would also undermine the budding solar industry.
SDG&E wants to add a monthly ‘network use charge’ for tapping into its distribution grid. Customers who do not use solar power would not see much of a change on their monthly bill, but customers who do use it would pay about $22 more per month, according to estimates by SDG&E. Schools and water districts that use solar power could pay thousands of dollars more per month, though SDG&E representatives said those estimates are still being calculated.
SDG&E outreach manager Ian Stewart said if the billing scheme is not overhauled, traditional customers will increasingly continue to subsidize the costs of services for people who do use solar power.
“We need to be sure that all customers pay their fair share for using the grid,” Stewart said. Right now that so-called subsidy is about $25 a year for the average customer, but that could increase to hundreds of dollars if nothing is changed, Stewart said.
In October SDG&E filed a rate case with the California Public Utilities Commission, which is done every three years. Though a decision on that case is not expected until August, the proposed ‘network use charge’ quickly raised the eyebrows of many critics, including David Gersz, a spokesperson for the San Diego Solar Coalition and a salesman for . He said SDG&E’s proposed rate restructure would actually charge a fee to customers with solar power based on how much power they use.
“The more power the solar customers offsets, the more SDG&E plans to increase their fees,” he explained. For example, under the proposed rate restructure, a homeowner with solar power paying $371 annually could expect to see that bill grow by 94 percent to $718, Gersz said, who citied his resource as a study by the California Center for Sustainable Energy, an non-biased third party.
Gersz also said that as solar power increases, there is less of a need for new power lines, which means less profit for SDG&E. “Their solution is to introduce fees that are essentially going to kill our industry,” he said. The solar industry is one of the fastest growing in the nation, and in California it provides more than 30,000 jobs, Gersz added, calling it “a bright spot in our dim economy.”
About a dozen Encinitas residents and people who work in the local solar industry addressed City Council, each of them urging the city to formally oppose what SDG&E has laid out. Council ultimately agreed, unanimously voting for a resolution to oppose SDG&E’s proposed rate restructure.
Encinitas joins a lengthy list of opponents, including the cities of Solana Beach and Lemon Grove, as well as several water districts, the Sierra Club, and Walmart.
“There’s only one set of facts, but there’s a lot of ways to interpret them, and I just disagree with [SDG&E]’s interpretation of these particular facts, especially at this particular time,” said Encinitas Mayor Jerome Stocks, who uses solar power at his home.
Encinitas City Councilwoman Teresa Barth said she believes this push for the emerging solar industry is a sign of more change to come.
“The old model, like utility monopoly, is not going to work in the twenty-first century,” she said. “This is the beginning of the change, and it’s right where we need to be.”