A proposed policy change from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has angered California renters.

If implemented, the policy changes would remove financial incentives for property owners to install rooftop solar in shared settings like schools, farms, or multifamily dwellings. As a result, it would render solar power inaccessible for the nearly 17 million renters in California, who have had limited access to residential rooftop solar.

These changes also go against the CPUC’s promise to safeguard low-income communities from last year’s alterations to the state’s solar net-metering rules.

The news that California wants to remove solar incentives for renters has ignited a firestorm of criticism. Numerous community and environmental justice groups, along with over 150 local elected officials, have expressed strong opposition to the proposal.

Opponents argue that the CPUC’s policy change will disrupt ongoing multifamily solar projects serving approximately 100,000 renters in the state.

The proposal is regarded as fundamentally unfair. The CPUC’s policy change would force tenants, schools, and farms to purchase all their power from the utility company, even if it is generated on their own rooftop or land.

Changes to Net Metering

Multifamily dwellings in California are being impacted by changes in net-metering policies.

Under the old net metering system, the credit that solar customers received for selling excess energy to the grid was the same as the amount that they paid for consuming energy. However, in late 2022, the CPUC replaced the net metering system with a net billing tariff system. The net billing tariff system pays customers 75 percent less for their surplus solar power.

Now, the CPUC wants multifamily dwellings that produce solar power to be compensated at the lower export rate. The CPUC policy is being endorsed by California’s major investor-owned utilities, namely Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric.

The proposed changes will have a negative impact on the value of solar energy for both owners and tenants of multifamily properties. Instead of selling excess solar power for 32 cents per kilowatt-hour (the current figure), customers would only earn an average of 4.7 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Even if multifamily properties installed batteries to store excess solar power, the batteries would only slightly increase customers’ savings. Customers living in properties with storage batteries would earn about 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to Canary Media. 

As a result, the proposed changes appear to be an attempt to save the CPUC money.

This significant economic disadvantage would disproportionately affect renters, particularly those in Latino or Black communities. The CPUC is currently accepting feedback from stakeholders, with the majority expressing opposition to the proposed decision.

The CPUC may proceed with the current proposal, propose an alternative, or delay the vote for further review.

Image Source: Loving Living Ku-ring-gai, https://shorturl.at/bEV19