Developing a Fair Program for Solar

 

One of the issues we are facing at our next Public Utilities Board (PUB) meeting is how to fairly pay rooftop solar customers for the excess energy they send to the grid. In Alameda, about 350 people have rooftop solar at their homes, representing about 1 percent of Alameda Municipal Power’s (AMP) 35,000 customers. It’s a complicated issue, and one that affects all Alamedans who pay an electric bill.

In recent years, rebates and incentives from utilities and government enabled solar technology to quickly mature. For example, the California Legislature in 2008 required utilities to provide rebates to customers installing solar systems. Under that law (Senate Bill 1) AMP provided more than $4 million in rebates to help offset the high costs of solar panels for commercial and residential customers. All of AMP’s customers pay for those rebates through a line item on their electric bill.

In addition, the Legislature, under the Net Energy Metering (NEM) program, required utilities to pay customers with solar systems for the excess energy they send to the electric grid. Funds for payments to these solar customers come from rates paid by everyone. AMP must do this until the city reaches a specific level of solar capacity, which will happen in the next few months. 

AMP must now develop a successor plan and decide what role it should have in taking power from solar customers, and how much to pay for their excess generation. Nearly all solar customers rely on AMP’s grid when the solar system is not generating, and AMP must ensure they help support the cost of keeping it running. 

For several months now, I’ve been AMP’s interim general manager as we search for a new leader of the utility. In this role, what has been most impressive to me is AMP’s ability to maintain a green and sustainable energy portfolio while providing excellent customer service and low-cost, reliable energy to the Alameda community. Today, AMP’s energy portfolio is 85 percent carbon-free and 65 percent renewable. 

Sustainability has been a core value of AMP’s for years, with long-standing forward-thinking leaders on the PUB. Not surprisingly, the utility continues to be forward thinking, transforming itself into what’s known as a “utility of the future.” Next year we will be rolling out automated smart meters that will allow our customers and AMP to better manage energy use and continue to reduce greenhouse gases. 

We will be assisting with the development at Alameda Point, potentially creating a technologically advanced grid. We will help develop strategies to include more clean energy into our portfolio, including solar power, both on a small and large scale. These issues highlight the fact that the energy industry is rapidly changing and AMP is responding.

For nearly two years, AMP has listened to public input through town hall meetings, PUB meetings, letters and phone calls. On Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers, PUB will consider the successor program to NEM. This program will not impact customers who currently have rooftop solar and participate in the NEM. The question we will tackle is how to create an equitable rate system while allowing customers to be more self-reliant and environmentally responsible. 

Please join us Monday, Nov. 21, so PUB can hear from you.

 

 

Liz Warmerdam lives in Alameda. She is the interim general manager of AMP and assistant city manager.