Farmers might stop adopting solar if California changes rate system | Opinion by Roger Isom

Late last year, the California Public Utilities Commission adopted a new distributed rooftop solar pricing system, greatly reducing customer financial incentives. The new Net Billing Tariff (formerly Net Energy Metering) addressed the inequalities that benefited customers with solar at the expense of those who didn’t have it.

Now the regulator is considering other changes to NEM programs. Unfortunately, those changes are designed by self-serving utilities to make it impossible for apartment buildings, renters, schools, and farmers to continue adopting solar energy.

Customers are currently allowed to install one solar project which serves multiple tenants, buildings, or irrigation pumps on the same property. All of these customers have one thing in common — multiple loads and meters at the same location. The proposed changes pushed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and their Southern California monopoly brethren will eviscerate the ability of these customers to continue adopting on-site renewable energy.

Renewable energy systems being installed on the state’s farms are the cornerstone of the state’s climate smart agricultural practices championed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The systems not only help California achieve renewable energy goals, but also enable important farm water conservation efforts, such as the state’s highly successful State Water Efficiency Enhancement Program program.

Climate smart farming and more sustainable food systems can’t happen if farms are precluded from installing distributed renewable energy systems, especially as they seek to electrify more operations and equipment on their farms.

PG&E’s rates have already risen by 11.2% so far this year and will go far higher in the coming months as the CPUC ponders another multibillion-dollar rate increase over the next four years. Rates are also rising far faster than inflation in Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric territories. As utility rates increase, the investor-owned utilities are especially desperate to limit less expensive renewable options for their customers.

Both virtual net energy metering and net energy metering aggregation programs were legislatively created (SB 594, Wolk 2012) to provide multimetered customers with the same opportunities to install efficient renewable energy systems on their farms, schools, and other property. Until the NEM-A program was enacted, farms were largely unable to install solar systems. It simply made no sense to install and interconnect multiple small and inefficient systems behind every separately metered irrigation pump on the farm. Since NEM-A was created, rural agricultural renewable energy projects have flourished.

The CPUC addressed a major inequity issue when it cut payments for distributed net energy metering customers last December. Under the proposed decision, the agency would now create an even larger inequity, leaving millions of renters and thousands of farms out in the cold by precluding their ability to install renewable energy and fully utilize it on-site. That is why several dozen bipartisan legislators have weighed in with the CPUC in support of continuing the programs.

It makes zero sense. Maybe for once the CPUC can come down on the side of customers and the planet, not greedy self-serving monopoly utilities.

Roger Isom is the CEO of the Western Agricultural Processors Association, California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, and president of the Agricultural Energy Consumers Association.

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