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Solar provider hopes TID changes tune
solar energy photo1
The Turlock Irrigation District is in the process of updating its solar program for customers following the District reaching its established peak of 27.81 megawatts of solar generation. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

The Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors' recent decision to send staff back with the mission of formulating a new solar program was likely received with a sigh of relief from solar providers and customers, who have raised both questions and concerns since the district reached its net metering cap earlier this year.

Having reached its established peak of 27.81 megawatts of solar generation, the district is no longer obligated to continue California net metering to additional customer-generators in its service area. Since then, district staff has attempted to create a new recommended rate design for solar customers.

One aspect included in the proposed design, which garnered a considerable amount of protest from providers and customers at a public hearing last month, was the district's proposal to switch from annual net metering to monthly net metering.

According to Sunrun director of public policy and spokesperson for The Alliance of Solar Choice Walker Wright, this change could essentially make solar next to impossible to finance and complicate the future of solar energy in the region.

"What TID is doing is very premature and essentially pulling the rug out from under the solar industry," said Wright. "While the rest of utilities in the state are extending net metering policies until 2017, TID is ending them."

Wright reports that although TID has made the decision to no longer provide California net metering to additional customer-generators within the service region, the rest of the state has been very clear that their rules are going to remain unchanged until the middle of 2017.

"I think the general public should know that what TID is doing is out of sync with what the rest of the state is when looking at net metering policy," said Wright.

Prior to reaching its cap, Wright reports that solar energy was essentially a success story in the Ceres area, since it saved a considerable amount of money on customers' electricity bills.

"We have had over 100 million invested in TID territory for solar energy systems, so it's been a major highlight in the local economy for the last two years," concluded Wright. "It would be a shame to let that all go while the rest of the state continues discussion for two and a half years."

The Sunrun spokesperson proposed that the utility company consider using the same methodology that the Public Utilities Commission uses to measure its net metering cap, as well as reconsider an annual net metering that is consistent with what the rest of the state is implementing.

Earlier this month, TID staff also recommended that the district use a two block time-of-use design for collecting energy charge, which means that the time that a solar customer generates power will largely define how much they would have to pay.

The recommendation also included paying customers the short-run marginal cost for generation above consumption and charge a demand charge.

Prior to reaching its peak, customers who signed up for solar were able to pay for service under their Otherwise Applicable Rate Service, continue to net meter under the rules of Residential Net Metering or Non-Residential Net Metering rate schedule, and have the ability to aggregate their solar generation over multiple meters.