Capitol Alert

AM Alert: Rooftop solar’s California future debated at PUC

California’s rooftop solar industry has enjoyed steady growth as more people choose to install panels atop their homes. But now industry officials and environmentalists warn of an existential threat looming at the California Public Utilities Commission.

Solar companies say their continued expansion relies on strong customer incentives. But some key ones are fading: an installation tax credit will soon expire and the rooftop solar industry lost their fight to have the Legislature make their electrons eligible for the state’s goal of getting half of its energy from renewable sources, which would have meant a guarantee of more business.

That leaves net metering. The process allows rooftop solar users to put excess energy back into the grid and deduct the value from their bills. The PUC is in the process of writing new net metering regulations as directed by a law passed last year, and industry folks contend that proposals from major utilities – which include new fees and adjusting how rooftop-generated energy is valued – would save customers less money, thereby removing the financial appeal of going solar. Utilities say they merely seek to cover the cost of maintaining the grid.

It’s technical stuff, but people believe it’s hugely important for the future of California’s green energy economy. PUC officials will hear proposals over the course of the next few days in San Francisco.

WATER FOR CROPS: Much has been made during this withering drought about the amount of water that goes to California agriculture – 80 percent of the water humans use goes to crops – and a growing population means more demand for food, which means more pressure on water supplies. Today California Department of Food & Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross will join other experts to discuss water and food security at the launch of a two-day conference at the University of California, Davis.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert