By Jesse Berst
Net metering allows customers who generate excess power (from solar PV, for instance) to get credit for it at retail rates. As a result, those customers do not make any contribution toward maintaining the grid or towards assisting low-income customers. (This is true for those areas served by investor-owned utilities. More than 25 percent of California electricity customers are served by publicly owned utilities. In those areas, net metering customers pay their share of maintaining the grid and public purpose programs.)
Now a California lawmaker has introduced legislation asking for a study of net metering's costs and benefit. In a guest editorial in the Sacramento Bee, Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena (who is chairman of the Utilities and Commerce Committee) explained that "with so many new solar customers taking advantage of net metering, we lack information about how the transferring of grid maintenance costs affects other ratepayers. Likewise, we cannot quantify the benefits of net metering that are accruing to ratepayers."
Even though the legislation simply calls for a study, California's ultra-aggressive consumer advocates had already attacked it as a utility plot in an earlier editorial titled "Don't let utilities undermine solar economy." That article had claimed, among other things, that "this utility-backed legislation will stymie job growth and threaten our state's clean energy leadership position."
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Jesse Berst is the founder and chief analyst of Smart Grid News.com, the industry's oldest and largest smart grid site. A frequent keynoter at industry events in the U.S. and abroad, he also serves on advisory committees for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Institute for Electric Efficiency. He often provides strategic consulting to large corporations and venture-backed startups. He is a member of the advisory boards of GridGlo and Calico Energy Services.