Solar panels on a home
Solar panels on the rooftop of a home in Southern California. Courtesy LA Solar Group

In San Diego, sunshine is the answer. It drives healthy living, tourism and it should power our lightbulbs day and night. 

A proposed update to the state’s rooftop solar program, referred to as net energy metering, will help make solar the clean energy source for all hours of the day. The California Public Utilities Commission will consider the update Thursday and the incentives for new solar with batteries are deserving of the commission’s support. 

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The state’s current policy incentivizes homeowners to make solar power during the day, doing little to address when the state burns fossil fuels in the evening to power lights, appliances and televisions. The current policy has been a success, making San Diego one of the top three cities in the country when it comes to rooftop solar.

It has also helped turn a once-nascent industry into a powerhouse. And the CPUC’s new proposal drives rooftop solar into the future by closely aligning the rates paid for excess energy from residential rooftops with the value it provides the grid. 

Under the proposal, the price for electricity provided during the day — when clean energy sources are most productive – is about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour. During the evening, the price can increase to more than a dollar. That is a maximum price that is well beyond the best offered to participants today.

Of course, the route to these higher returns happens by pairing a solar system with a battery. Storing electricity from the daylight and returning it to the grid during the evening reduces the need for electricity produced by burning fossil fuels. 

San Diego has committed to a community-wide goal of net zero by 2035. The state expects to use renewable and zero-carbon energy resources to supply 100% of electric retail sales to customers by 2045. We have embraced these goals knowing advances will be needed.

So, gaining all the clean energy we can from solar right now is a logical next step. In fact, it is an easy next step that will improve the air we breathe, the communities we live in, and our overall quality of life.  

Solar systems can be expensive and more needs to be done to place solar within financial reach for more Californians, but the return on investment from the current proposal is attractive. The CPUC reports the simple payback for a solar system is nine years or less. With battery storage, the payback is less than seven years.

The return is even better in San Diego where payback will be less than 5 years for the average customer. These payback periods will continue to drop as solar systems become more affordable and electricity prices from utilities continue to increase. 

Additionally, the CPUC estimates the proposal creates savings for a new San Diego Gas & Electric residential solar customer of $144 per month on average, and of at least $174 per month for a residential customer who has solar plus battery storage in 2023. 

Addressing affordability also received a boost from the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom this year when they committed nearly $1 billion to stimulate more rooftop solar with storage. 

Still, more can be done. The Public Advocates Office supports a battery credit and rate structures for those with existing solar systems to encourage adding a battery to their systems. We also believe the growing costs of the net energy metering program need to be addressed. Net energy metering is effectively funded by ratepayers wo are not participating in it, and the tab now makes up about 20 percent of the average SDG&E customer’s monthly bill. 

Reducing the cost of the program and expanding solar energy are wins for all Californians. The proposal is a step toward a clean energy future that will help provide affordable, reliable electricity for everyone and grant environmental benefits that permit us to enjoy the sun and the power it produces 24-hours a day.  

Matt Baker is the director of the Public Advocates Offices, an independent consumer advocate with a mission to fight for the lowest possible utility bills consistent with safety, reliability, and the state’s climate goals.