Solana Beach council and community oppose SDG&E rate proposal

By Claire Harlin

A proposed restructuring of rates by San Diego Gas & Electric was met with overwhelming opposition by both community members and local officials at the Nov. 9 Solana Beach City Council meeting.

The council discussion comes after SDG&E filed a rate case with the California Public Utilities Commission on Oct. 3 asking for approval of a new rate structure that would apply to all customers. The council voted unanimously to oppose the proposal in a resolution asking SDG&E to withdraw its application, as well as write letters of opposition to the CPUC, Gov. Jerry Brown and other entities.

According to a city staff report, SDG&E has confirmed that the proposed changes would raise solar customers’ energy bills from $11 to $30 per month, depending on the level of energy use.

Mayor Lesa Heebner called the proposal “appalling” but not shocking.

“It’s a huge step backward,” she said. “SDG&E is already making money on solar customers.”

She added that she believes the company is trying to put independent solar producers out of business so it can install solar in the desert and pump it to customers via transmission lines.

Heebner said “there’s a better idea than that,” and that’s to encourage people to install solar on their own.

“I hope [SDG&E] rethinks its rethinking of its business model,” she said.

SDG&E argues that it must design a rate structure to make sure customers are “paying their fair share,” said a local outreach director who presented to the council on behalf of the utility company.

He said a customer without solar is actually subsidizing the cost of SDG&E services that a customer with solar receives, which works out to about $25 a year for the non-solar user.

Opponents argue that the restructuring would raise the rates for those who have invested in solar panels on their rooftops, as well as negatively impact the positive momentum toward more solar installations.

Critics also argue that solar customers actually reduce the demand for electricity, thereby saving SDG&E money on upgrading its distribution infrastructure and energy generation costs.

“SDG&E needs to stop using a dark ages business model and do the right thing,” said Solana Beach resident Jill Cooper, who said she has invested a “substantial amount of money” on solar panels at her home.

Jack Hegenauer pointed out that he has a 5.1-kilowatt system installed at his Solana Beach home and he generates 110 percent of his household’s actually energy usage, which he said speaks to the power of distributed generation.

Solana Beach resident Torgen Johnson said solar power is both the answer for generating peak load energy and a solution to global warming.

SDG&E is a “monopoly squirming,” he said. “It’s kind of like a post office charging someone for using email.”