PG&E gets to send ME money!

I am eternally indebted to Assemblyman Jared Huffman, who just happens to represent my district (Marin and Southern Sonoma County). I don’t honestly remember if I voted for him in the last election, but I guarantee I will vote for him if he runs for reelection. Why? Because he sponsored AB 920: the California Solar Surplus Act of 2009. If you don’t have solar power in California and never intend to, you can stop reading now. But if you are thinking about installing or expanding a system, or if you think you might have overbuilt the one you have, Mr. Huffman is your hero.

Thanks to AB920, people in California will have even more incentive to install significant solar power systems on their homes, because they will be compensated fairly (instead of not at all) for net excess generation over a 12-month period. This bill eliminates a perverse feeling (one that I have felt) that we’d rather waste electricity than to give any away to PG&E (for them to sell).

Until AB920 came along, private solar generation remained a hard sell and somewhat of a balancing act. There are significant incentives to help offset the cost of installation – rebates from the state, substantial (30%, no cap) income tax credits from the Feds (thanks to Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009), unsecured loans from Sonoma County (although I opted for the home equity avenue because I’m one of the lucky ones that still has some – equity, that is). The sticking point was the mathematics game of designing a system that would generate “just enough” electrons. In our case, that was complicated by the fact that we were doing energy-saving home improvements at the same time, which made our historical data fairly worthless. With this new law (which was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger in October), that is no longer as much of an issue.

Under the previous rules, if I overbuild my system (which I probably did, and not at a trivial cost) and generate more than I use (which I probably will), PG&E would just take the excess for free (thank you very much) and then turn around and sell it at retail rates to other customers (like you!).

I have a sense of responsibility to the earth, but not to PG&E’s bottom line. I was already trying to figure out ways to use up my projected excess – perhaps buying a plug-in car (like the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf), which don’t exist yet. But in the meantime, I had stopped worrying about leaving lights on. This bill will bring me back to a more responsible position of conservation because I will be fairly compensated for my excess electrons.

The amount is still to be determined by the CPUC, but in a recent letter I received from PG&E, they’re proposing 8.1 cents per kWh. They claim that “represents a proxy for the market value of the power”. I figure that is a low water mark, and the CPUC will probably negotiate it up. Either way, anything more than zero cents per kWh is better than what we had before.

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