Mark Ferron, an outgoing commissioner on the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), voiced strong support for California solar incentives in a farewell letter he sent on his final day in office. Ferron is stepping down due to an ongoing fight with prostate cancer.
In his letter, he urges the commission to resist efforts by the state’s utilities to curb the growth of distributed generation (DG) and instead represent the interests of solar customers and renewable energy in general.
The CPUC, which regulates our state’s investor-owned utilities (including Southern California Edison), is tasked with determining the rates that customers pay for their power. They are also in charge of approving incentive programs that are designed to encourage the growth of DG resources.
Utilities companies must first ask permission of the CPUC in order to increase their rates or change the types of rebates they offer solar customers. Because of this, the CPUC plays a pivotal role in determining whether solar power will continue to grow in California.
Ferron urged caution in dealing with AB 327, a new law that gives the CPUC authority to determine whether utility companies can charge a flat fee to all customers (including solar customers) and set guidelines for the California’s Net Energy Metering program (a program that allows solar panel owners to make solar energy and sell it back to the utility company).
“…Recognize that this is a poisoned chalice: the Commission will come under intense pressure to use this authority to protect the interests of the utilities over those of consumers and potential self-generators, all in the name of addressing exaggerated concerns about grid stability, cost and fairness,” Ferron wrote in his letter. “You – my fellow Commissioners — all must be bold and forthright in defending and strengthening our state’s commitment to clean and distributed energy generation.”
Utility companies have generally been reluctant to support rooftop solar power because they believe that solar customers are not paying their fair share of the “soft costs” of operating a grid, namely transmission and maintenance. However, solar industry advocates have made the case that solar rate payers are in fact providing positive benefits for the grid by allowing the utility companies to spend less on building more plants.
Solar advocates also point out that utility companies have been relatively slow when it comes to construction of new solar panel plants. If California is to meet its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) — which requires the state to derive 33 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020 — it’s going to need more rooftop solar generating capacity.
By allowing electric companies to slow the growth of this technology, Ferron argues, it will make it less likely for the state to accomplish its RPS goals. Hopefully, the CPUC takes Ferron’s letter to heart and protects California’s environmental and economic future by backing California solar rebate programs.