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Steven Maviglio

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March 15, 2013
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Who is PG&E trying to fool about net metering?

If nothing else, you have to give PG&E some credit for their chutzpah in trying to fool Californians and elected officials into believing that the utility giant really does support rooftop solar, while simultaneously doing their level best to kill efforts by schools, local governments and homeowners to tap the power of the sun.

In a recent San Jose Mercury News opinion piece and on PG&E’s blog, the utility doesn’t let facts get in the way of their propaganda.

Let’s review the PG&E claims and contrast them with the facts.

Claim No. 1:

“It also allows customers to essentially use the electric grid as a battery for free, storing excess energy they don’t need now to offset their usage at other times when they draw power from the grid.”

The facts:

In most instances, electricity flows to a neighbor — not to the other end of the state. So that’s about 200 feet of wire. So PG&E is charging that customer the full retail cost for power that may have crossed over just 1/10,000th of its system.

Claim No. 2:

“Some customers even produce more energy in a year than they use, and net metering provides for financial payments for that.”

The facts:

Most solar customers, most of the time, use their solar energy before it touches the grid. The ones who don’t use it the same hour tend to use it the same day. If not the same day, the same month. Bottom line: they’re not generating energy. They’re just saving it. The “retail rate” paid is the result of a mix of a few very expensive hours (think of summer afternoons) and a lot of inexpensive hours (think: 2 a.m.). Net metering systems get credit for just this average rate but tend to serve the grid during those most expensive hours. The result is a net benefit for non-solar customers.

Claim No. 3:

“From the beginning, PG&E was a proponent of Net Energy Metering, in part because it had a limited life expectancy. After a certain amount of solar was installed, the initial program would end, largely because such widespread adoption of solar would signal a thriving market that did not need further subsidy. This plan for market transformation has been challenged by some in the solar industry who want indefinite solar subsidies.”

The facts:

When you pay Starbucks for a cup of coffee, that’s not a subsidy — that’s a fair exchange. Net energy metering is a policy that recognizes that solar users should be credited for producing electricity that the grid uses. If they are not compensated, then one could argue that the utility is stealing it because they will charge the solar user’s neighbor full retail rates for it. In addition, PG&E doesn’t consider that fossil fuel-based electricity is considered a problem of global importance, and that we aren’t moving nearly fast enough to change that. The presumption that support for solar has “run its course” is absurd. And by the way, PG&E never supported net metering; its lobbyists testified against the measure creating the program in California.

Steven Maviglio lives in Sacramento.

Net energy metering is a policy that recognizes that solar users should be credited for producing electricity that the grid uses.


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The Union Updated Apr 6, 2013 10:55AM Published Mar 15, 2013 10:42PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.