California Bill Would Expand Solar, Add Monthly Power Fee

California lawmakers sent legislation to Governor Jerry Brown that would give regulators the ability to authorize a $10 monthly fee on power bills and expand a program requiring utilities buy excess solar electricity from customers.

The State Assembly today gave final approval to the bill, which amends restrictions put in place during the 2000-2001 power crisis that limited the California Public Utilities Commission’s ability to raise rates for certain customers. The regulator would be able to approve fixed charges of no more than $10 a month to customer bills starting in 2016.

It also calls on regulators to revise the net-metering solar program, previously slated to end, under which utilities credit back customers with rooftop panels for producing more power than they use. The legislation would allow regulators to remove a cap on the amount that can be credited. In addition, the bill gives the commission the authority to require utilities to buy more than 33 percent of their power from renewable sources.

“This is very positive for the solar industry,” Lyndon Rive, chief executive officer of rooftop panel company SolarCity Corp., said in a phone interview. “It removes a net-metering cap and that is a good thing.”

PG&E Corp., Edison International and Sempra Energy, owners of the state’s largest investor-owned utilities, supported the bill. The Sierra Club has called the $10 fixed charge, which can’t be offset by solar production, “excessive and unnecessary.”

A spokesman for the governor declined to comment on whether he would sign the measure.

“This bill allows state regulators to make the most significant reforms to residential electric rates since the energy crisis,” said Matt Freedman, staff attorney with the Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group that supports the legislation.

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