To date, California schools and public agencies that have gone solar have saved $2.5 billion in energy costs-real money that lets cash-strapped districts hold on to teachers and enables communities to maintain services. California homeowners have saved their neighbors $92.2 million by producing electricity that doesn’t need to be shipped across expensive, inefficient transmission lines from a dirty, utility-owned generator-which means their fellow ratepayers pay less for maintaining existing lines and building new ones. And solar’s created 43,000 jobs in the state.

But now California’s utilities-and utilities across the United States-are working to undermine the policies that make solar a great deal for the state. They’re doing this by attacking a key tenet of rooftop solar: the right to get a fair credit for the energy your system produces when you’re not using it.

If you’re a rooftop solar owner who leaves for work at 8 a.m. and returns home at 6 p.m., your solar installation is generating most of its electricity in your absence, when the sun is shining. That electricity doesn’t go to waste just because you’re not at home with the lights on; the utility just pulls the power from your system and sells it to the next building that needs it-probably someone on your block.

Doesn’t it seem right, then, that you get credit for the full value of the product that the utility just sold your neighbor? After all, you’re the owner of the system that created it.

This is how the California solar market has functioned since 1996, when this policy called “net metering” was introduced. Solar owners who generate electricity that they don’t need at that exact moment watch their electrical meters turn backward. The credits for that electricity can be used at a later time-like after dark, when your family’s home. It works just like cellphone rollover minutes, and has worked for almost 20 years.

Now imagine the magnitude of ending this policy for a school with installed solar that doesn’t hold summer classes. These systems are producing power for the neighborhood during the hottest, most power-guzzling months of the year-the same time of year when the utilities are often forced to fire up their dirtiest “peaker” generation to meet electricity demand. Those are power plants that aren’t efficient or clean enough to be run full-time.

The utilities argue that paying you full price for the electricity you’ve generated is unfair to your neighbors who don’t have solar. But what they’re really worried about are their profits.

California utilities aren’t allowed to make a profit on the electricity they sell. But they are guaranteed a rate of return on any infrastructure they build. And when customers start generating their own electricity, and the excess generation is shared throughout the neighborhood, the utility has less need to build more expensive, dirty power plants in and transmission lines from far-flung parts of the state-infrastructure costs it can pass on to their ratepayers with a guaranteed return. This argument isn’t about utilities protecting ratepayers. It’s about utilities protecting their profits.
Solar generation is affordable, safe and reliable. It just doesn’t fit with big, government-linked monopolies’ business models. Net metering is the backbone of California’s solar success. We can’t let slow-moving utilities without our best interests in mind impede on our right to generate our own cleaner, cheaper solar power on our homes and businesses.

The utilities have millions of dollars to pour into combatting net metering in state legislatures and at public utility commissions, but we have hundreds of thousands of satisfied solar customers, and even more who care about their community’s right to choose clean, renewable generation. If you want to maintain this right, let your local political leadership know. www.protectnetmetering.org is a great resource for more information on how these policies work, and how you can weigh in locally.
We all deserve the right to produce our own power and reap the full benefits of our investment. Let’s not let big monopolies take that right away from us.

Mike Hall, Chief Executive Officer, Borrego Solar

Mr. Mike Hall currently serves as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and board member for Borrego Solar. Mike has been with Borrego Solar since 2002 when he was hired as Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) to manage the sales and marketing of commercial and government grid-tied solar power systems. Transitioning into the role of CEO in 2009, Mike has led the company’s development of a number of new service offerings including: integrated power purchase agreements, consulting services, and utility scale project development. Prior to joining Borrego Solar, Mike worked as a Product Development Engineer for Applied Materials in Santa Clara. Mike is NABCEP certified and holds a MS in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University and a BS in Chemical Engineering from the University California Santa Barbara.