Utilities to Pay for Confiscated Electricity?

Among the plethora of new laws taking effect on January 1, 2010, is a new law (AB 920, from October 2009) that finally requires electric public utilities such as San Diego Gas & Electric Company to pay a wholesale rate for excess electricity from ratepayers who generate more solar or wind-generated electricity than they can use.

There has been no mention of AB 920 or its effects in any advertising by SDG&E or Sempra Energy, despite the accumulated hours and days of television advertising from them that tells us how we need them every day.

This one footnote to the AB 920 web page of environmentcalifornia.org states that, "According to SDG&E, the utility received over 351 kWh of surplus electricity from the roughly 2,000 solar customers in their territory. Assuming a similar experience in the other utility territories, and assuming an average system size of 5 kW generating at a 18% capacity factor, we calculate that more than 500 Californians are experiencing a loss of surplus power each year."

In SDG&E's Sunrise Powerlink application that was recently approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, SDG&E alleged that residential solar electricity production was 3.3 kW, just two-thirds of the Environment California estimate in its web page footnote. Given that discrepancy, it appears that Environment California significantly underestimates the number of ratepayers that were never compensated for confiscated electrons.

Unpaid Confiscation to Stop Now? Not Likely.

Ordinarily, a law that goes into effect on January 1 is enforceable on the same day. According to Peter Wagner's editorial letter this morning in our distinguished daily's Sunday edition, "On calling SDG&E, however, I was informed that there was so many 'details to be resolved,' implementation [of AB 920] will not happen until January 2011."

Of course, January 2011 is not a firm date, as CPUC must hold hearings and accept public comments before setting a "reasonable" wholesale rate that investor-owned utilities must pay to ratepayers for their excess electricity.

One would think that SDG&E's new CPUC-approved "smart meters" would immediately credit excess electricity production to the ratepayers who produced it, but apparently not.

Talk to Michael Shames at UCAN for his take on how long CPUC takes to make a decision.

What You Can Do

On a personal note, I am still recommending that individual ratepayers consider setting up small home solar panel kits for removing a few of their smaller household appliances off the grid. This should eliminate any concern regarding SDG&E confiscation without payment of excess ratepayer-generated electricity, at least until CPUC actually sets the ratepayer wholesale rate for excess production. Also, it avoids any concern over getting paid at a lower rate than SDG&E would bill out to energy-conserving consumers. As the number of ratepayers who voluntarily reduce their consumption of SDG&E electricity increases, more of us will have more to spend elsewhere in the economy than on SDG&E for Sempra Energy to maintain its high dividend payout rate at close to 40% of retained earnings to stock speculators, hedge fund operators, and the like.

In addition, I urge all interested California ratepayers to write to CPUC, asking for a quick hearing and setting of the wholesale rate to be paid for confiscated electricity.

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