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Solar power: Extra utility fee to cover costs?

August 12, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Solar power is more popular than ever mainly because of the tremendous savings on utility bills. But one utility company in another state is proposing to charge a substantial fee to new solar customers. Why would the company do that, and could it happen here?

John Harvanchik is very proud of the solar system he installed at this stevenson ranch home, and for good reason.

"We run our air-conditioner now a lot more than we used to. Our house is a lot cooler," said John Harvanchik. "We're happier, we're even environmentally friendly."

Not to mention the annual savings on his electric bill.

"Before I had solar power, my electric bill was about $2,000 a year, approximately. Maybe a little bit more," said Harvanchik. "After I got solar, my electric bill is about $160 for the whole year."

And that's why the solar power business is heating up. Earlier this week. Cal-ISO, the operator of California's power grid, reported a record day for solar power generated. It was enough power to nearly offset the loss of electricity generated by the now-defunct San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

But in Arizona, the state's largest utility company has requested the state government to allow them to charge new solar customers $50 to $100 a month to cover the cost of maintaining their power grid. Harvanchik says it would be a disaster if it happened here.

"I probably wouldn't have gone solar," said Harvanchik. "It sounds like a bad idea."

For some time, utility companies have been promoting the use of alternative energy sources such as solar. But could what's happening in Arizona happen here? I went to Southern California Edison and asked them that question.

"I don't think we have any plans to simply charge solar customers anything differently," said Gary Stern, SoCal Edison.

That said, SoCal Edison is considering a rate hike for all residential customers.

"When people put individual solar systems on their homes, they're still using the grid, and they're essentially asking others to pay for some of that use," said Stern. "So over time I think we would like to see a rate structure that reduces that subsidy."

But don't expect that to happen overnight. The California Public Utilities Commission has to approve any rate hike, and the commission said that could take several months, if not longer.


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