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Require PG&E to buy excess solar production

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POSTED April 16, 2009 5:04 a.m.
Assemblywoman Lori Saldana wants all homes built and sold in California after Jan. 1, 2020 to be zero net energy users.

It means they would produce enough power to offset any electricity they draw from the grid.

That’s a nice concept but why wait a decade and have the heavy hand of Sacramento force the issue when there is a much quicker and less intrusive solution. Saldana can go ahead and push her bill but if she’s real serious about energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions there is something that could be done today.

The solution is to pass a law that requires power companies to buy excessive power generated by anyone – homeowners, factories, businesses, and farms. There are solar systems in place that already generate more power than the homeowner can use but under protection granted to the big power companies by the state they are no longer required to buy excessive electricity as they once were under the Gov. Jerry Brown administration.

If homeowners today have the ability to sell power generated by solar panels back to the grid there would be a lot more solar systems that would pencil out. It also would reduce demand for peak power since most energy load problems occur during hot, sunny days. It would also reduce the need for coal burning and nuclear power to cover peak demand.

So why isn’t this possible today? The answer is as simple as PG&E – plus Southern California Consolidated Edison as well as the San Diego Power & Gas Co.

The Big Three of California energy providers that brought you deregulation also squashed attempts to prolong the life of the law that was germinated during the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown requiring them to buy excess power. You could have an independent hydro-electric plant on a small stream or solar panels on your roof and generate enough clean electricity to cover the needs of two other households besides yours but it would be for naught.

Actually it is for something – PG&E’s bottom line. Solar systems routinely generate more power in aggregate than a homeowner can use in a typical year. The power company gets to use the excess electricity now for free.

How it currently works in California is a solar system generates excessive power on bright, sunny days to run the meter backwards. It then reverses at night and on heavily clouded or rainy days. The end result in the instance of a well-designed solar system is a zero balance energy bill for a year exclusively of a minimal meter reader fee the power companies are allowed to charge.

 Designers of systems are careful to make sure there is just enough power generation to cover anticipated future needs and a slight decline in generation potential over the years.

Typically, households with electric bills hovering around $200 a month are ideal candidates. In such cases the seven-to 10-year loan ends up having monthly payments equal to the power bill. Essentially for the first 10 years you have a situation where your power costs are flat-lined. After that, you’re pocketing the money and getting free energy.

What would be the harm in allowing over-designed residential and business solar systems where the homeowner may get a $100 check each month from PG&E? The additional increase in the solar system would probably pay for itself and then some. Then after 10 years the homeowner can pocket the entire amount of profit generated on electricity sales each month.

PG&E and its kissing cousins are always looking for new, clean power sources. What could be cleaner and less obtrusive to the environment than roof top solar units?

The quasi-public power companies that operate with many powers usually reserved for government such as eminent domain will argue they potentially would not be a profitable venture.

Really. Solar panels don’t work on every home and they certainly don’t generate enough juice to run a factory.

Besides, not everyone is going to be inclined to put in a solar system.

Allowing individuals to do so and then requiring the power companies to buy the excess power would be good for California and it helps clean our air.

As long as firms like PG&E want to have it both ways with a state commission protecting their profits while blocking competition, they need to be forced by the state that is assuring them steady profits to buy clean green power generated by Californians.
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