Martin Webb: Solar and time of use
Submitted to The Union
A new rule came into effect last December for any PG&E homes going solar. If you go solar now in PG&E territory, you must switch to a Time Of Use rate as a requirement.
If you installed solar before mid-Dec 2016, and are on a non-TOU rate, then you are grandfathered in for 20 years under the old rules and can stay on a non-TOU rate. This new rule is for new solar installs only.
Note: If you have an existing pre-Dec-2016 grandfathered solar system on your home, and you expand it by more than 1000 Watts (or by 10 percent, whichever is greater), then that expansion must be under the new rules and you’ll either need to switch your entire home onto new TOU rates, or you’ll have to pay for a second meter to be installed that bills the new solar expansion separately at the new TOU rate, while the rest of your home and the original system stay on a non-TOU rate. (If the expansion is less than 1000W or 10 percent, then the expansion will be grandfathered into the old system and no need to switch to TOU rates at all.)
Furthermore, within the next few years all PG&E homes will eventually be switched to new TOU rates as the default rate, unless you opt out. Be prepared for that. I warned you. But right now you have rate freedom and are not on TOU rates unless you have requested them. The idea behind TOU rates is that it’s an incentive to avoid energy use during the times when utilities struggle to meet the demand (summer afternoons generally). So peak hours tend to be summer weekday afternoons, when prices are higher than normal, and the flip side is that during off-peak hours (mornings, late evenings, weekends, winter) your prices are lower than normal. So if you can avoid peak hours, you’ll likely get a discount by mainly paying off-peak rates.
Solar can work well with TOU rates, as your solar may spin your meter backwards during peak hours, earning you a large than normal credit, and then at night when solar isn’t working, you get to buy power back at discounted rates. It depends on the rate plan. The PG&E “E-6” TOU rate plan was good for solar, so it was discontinued last May (people who were on it can stay on it for a few more years), and now there’s a new TOU rate that isn’t as great. The old E-7 TOU rate was even better for solar, so they killed it in 2006, replacing it with E-6, which was still too good so that had to go last year, too! One of the ways they combat solar adoption: jimmy with the rate plans and kill the good ones that favor the consumer (insert side-to-side headshake here, followed by eye roll).
OK, that’s a lot to digest. If you read all five columns on understanding your PG&E bill, thanks and congrats: you are now a more informed consumer. Look for more energy insights soon. Remember, I’d like to hear from you!
Martin Webb has been working in the solar industry for nearly 20 years. His job every day is to answer questions about renewable energy and to help people understand their energy bill. He currently is Solar Sales Manager at Byers Solar and hosts a monthly Energy Report on KVMR community radio 89.5 FM, broadcast from 12-1 p.m. the second Thursday each month. Martin is sharing his insights and information with The Union readers. Note: Martin Webb’s comments are his own. See this story at TheUnion.com to read all five parts of this series.
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