Marin-based utility pays $2.8M for customers’ surplus solar power

MCE paid Marin homeowners and businesses with rooftop solar systems more than $673,000 for extra electricity their systems produced during the most recent 12-month billing cycle, the San Rafael-based joint powers authority said Monday.

In total, MCE’s solar customers in Marin, Contra Costa, Napa and Solano counties received more than $2.8 million in cash back for electricity generated between May 28, 2018, and April.

“The program is unique because most customers with solar panels in California are required to forfeit any surplus credits on their accounts,” said Kalicia Pivirotto, an MCE marketing manager.

A meter tracks the difference between the amount of electricity solar panels produce and the amount of electricity their owners use during each billing cycle. When panels produce more electricity than the MCE customer uses, they receive credits on their bill.

MCE rolls over excess credits every month up to $5,000. If customers earn credits of $100 or more, they have an option to “cash out” each April. MCE pays solar customers the full retail rate for their excess electricity plus an extra penny per kilowatt-hour.

“If you generate more than you use over the course of a year, the investor-owned utilities pay you for that electricity at a very low rate and the community-choice aggregators pay a higher rate,” said Brad Heavner, policy director at the California Solar Storage Association.

Pivirotto said, “PG&E’s Net Surplus Compensation program only compensates customers up to the wholesale value of their electricity production.”

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. did not respond to a request for comment.

MCE was California’s first community choice aggregator. Under community choice aggregation legislation, California cities and counties are allowed to combine their citizens’ purchasing power to buy electricity and thus compete with investor-owned utilities, such as PG&E.

Community choice aggregation was initially viewed as a means of securing more affordable electricity, but environmentalists have adopted the approach as a way of boosting the market for renewable energy.

“MCE’s solar program is a great incentive for everyone in our region to be less reliant on energy sources that are contributing to climate change and the growing threat of wildfires,” said Elizabeth Patterson, mayor of Benicia and an MCE board member. “Many of the recipients of the innovative cash-out program are local governments and schools that are using these funds to reinvest in making our communities more resilient.”

Pivirotto said more than 70 percent of the MCE cashouts went to municipalities and schools.

“In the first full year of working with MCE, Pittsburg Unified School District has realized a $72,000 cashout from overproduction of our solar arrays districtwide,” said Janet Schulze, district superintendent. “This was a win-win situation for us. Our solar arrays are in place and now we are gaining additional value for the energy we are producing beyond the needs of our schools.”

In addition, MCE’s rooftop solar customers have the option of transferring their credits to MCE programs that serve disadvantaged communities. One example is MCE’s solar rebate program, which is available to low-income MCE customers interested in installing solar panels.

MCE residential customers who live in a single-family home and earn 80 percent or less of their county’s area median income can qualify for up to a $900 rebate. MCE has allocated $535,000 to this program since launching it in 2013.

MCE provides electricity service to approximately 470,000 customer accounts and more than 1 million residents and businesses in 34 communities in Napa, Marin, Contra Costa and Solano counties. Less than 14 percent of its potential market has opted out to remain with PG&E.

 

Marin-based utility pays $2.8M for customers’ surplus solar power, by Richard Halstead, Marin Independent Journal, August 5, 2019.

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