Proposed Solar Fee

The “answers” provided by the author bear little resemblance to the facts. While I understand the concept of literary license, and it was clear the article was written with tongue-in-cheek, in the best interests of your readers -- and our customers -- I’d like to set the record straight. Here is what I would have said, had you asked me: You (The Reader): SDG&E is committed to renewable energy, right? Me (SDG&E): Absolutely. Just this year, SDG&E has signed more than 14 renewable energy contracts for a total of about 1,280 megawatts (MW) of wind and solar from companies in San Diego, Northern California, and Arizona. About 250 MW will be produced by projects built in San Diego County, with another 920 MW generated by projects in Imperial County. That French company you mentioned -- Soitec -- has committed to building a factory in San Diego County to manufacture the specialized solar panels for several of those projects. At full capacity, Soitec’s San Diego area operations should generate up to 450 local jobs. Based on all of the contracts we have signed to date, we are close to meeting the goal to have 33% of our electricity portfolio from renewable resources in 2020. You: You are a utility company, right? What does that mean? Me: SDG&E provides natural gas and electricity service to more than 3 million people throughout our 4,100-square mile service territory that stretches from the U.S.-Mexico border to Southern Orange County. For the past five years straight, we have been named the “best in the West” for electric reliability. You: I was pretty upset with that blackout a few weeks ago. Am I going to get a refund for that? Me: On Sept. 8, due to the Pacific Southwest outage, power went out for more than 5 million people, including those in SDG&E’s service area and some of Southern California Edison’s customers, as well as people in Arizona, Imperial County, and Baja California. It was a cascading outage that started at a substation near Yuma. But our system responded as designed to prevent an even more widespread outage and avoid damage to the electrical system. And SDG&E employees worked through the night to restore service to all SDG&E customers in 12 hours -- for some customers even sooner -- after an outage that could have lasted two days or more. You: Now I see on the news there is a big debate over residential solar systems. You claim that a person connected to your utility grid is costing you over $1,100 a year. Is that correct? Me: Today, about 14,500 net energy metering customers who have rooftop solar on their homes or businesses do not pay a penny for using the utility’s electricity network to deliver power to their homes and businesses before the sun is up and after it sets. Those avoided costs are shifted to about 350,000 customers -- those in Tiers 3 and 4 (because rates for Tiers 1 & 2 were capped by state law). That amounts to a subsidy of about $1,100 a year per solar customer. You: It seems to me that solar customers are providing you with electricity you can sell for a substantial mark-up. I fail to see how they are costing you money, so let’s keep going. Me: SDG&E does not buy energy from solar customers, and we don’t sell to others whatever energy solar customers produce but don’t use immediately. Instead, that energy is credited to those solar customers who pay only for any kilowatt-hours they use net of what they generate. Many solar marketers use the benefits of “net metering” as a marketing tool, describing it as the equivalent of electricity storage. SDG&E also does not take in any more revenue as a result of the changes we’ve proposed. The change is who pays for services solar customers now get free. The network use charge would help to ensure that all customers get what they pay for and pay for what they get. Many solar customers think they’re “off the grid” because they produce energy with rooftop PV. The reality is they still need -- and use -- SDG&E’s electricity network to send their solar generation to the grid and to deliver power when their solar unit is not producing. Today, they pay nothing for this service. And, they don’t pay for the customer-assistance programs that are part of the “bundled” rate all non-solar customers pay. Is that fair? We don’t think so. What’s fair is requiring all customers to pay on the same basis for the services they receive. Lee Schavrien, SDG&E Senior vice president of finance, regulatory & legislative affairs 92123
— October 31, 2011 9:26 a.m.

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