Supervisors call for solar buy-back incentive


By Joe Naiman


A unanimous San Diego County Board of Supervisors vote Nov. 18 directed the county’s chief administrative officer to amend the county’s legislative program to add county-sponsored legislation which would give residential solar energy customers the ability to sell surplus generated energy to local utility companies.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who introduced the resolution, noted that such legislation would provide another incentive for clean and renewable energy.

“Solar customers deserve fair market compensation for extra power they produce,” Jacob said.

The state implemented the California Solar Initiative last year. The program provides $3.3 billion to subsidize installations of photovoltaic systems. “More and more San Diegans are taking advantage of state incentives,” Jacob said.

While the use of solar energy systems reduces energy costs, any surplus generation is carried forward on a customer’s utility bill for 12 months. But any yearly excess is pocketed by the utility.

“The individual who has generated the energy gets nothing for it,” Jacob said. “The need for action was brought to my attention by these very customers.”

Energy experts believe that more homeowners would purchase residential systems if they were allowed to sell surplus energy to local utilities. Current state law does not allow such sales, and an assembly bill which would have allowed “net metered” utility customers to sell surplus generation was not passed by the state legislature this year. Similar legislation is expected when the legislature convenes next month.

San Diego Gas & Electric and other utilities are under a state mandate to produce at least 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2010. “The state can and should, I believe, allow SDG&E to allow the residential solar towards its mandate,” Jacob said.

SDG&E has registered support of legislation, which would allow residential solar energy customers to sell surplus power to the utility at a fair market rate.

“That’s only fair,” Jacob said.

Jacob believes that the county can obtain its needed energy from clean sources. “Today’s action puts us a step closer to that exciting future,” she said.