Solar Power
9:37 am
Thu April 11, 2013

CPS Energy Plan To Change Solar Credit Rate Outrages Advocates

CPS Energy is replacing its solar credit system that pays solar energy users with another program that pays slightly less, leaving some solar energy organizations and customers outraged.

CPS Energy customers currently pay 9.9 cents per kilowatt used, but people with solar energy on their home or business receive the same 9.9 cents back as a credit on their bill for every kilowatt they generate in a process called net-metering.

CPS Energy is proposing a plan called SunCredit that reduces that amount to a solar energy market value. This year that value is 5.6 cents. CPS Energy Spokeswoman Christine Patmon said the change is to evenly distribute the cost of infrastructure like utility poles among customers.

"It’s unfair for customers who can’t afford solar to shoulder all of the costs of infrastructure alone," Patmon said.

Lanny Sinkin, executive director of Solar San Antonio, disagrees with that statement.

"That’s a problem in California in some utility areas where you have a 20 percent penetration rate of solar energy," Sinkin said. "In other words, solar is delivering 20 percent of the total energy. At that point you have problems with the maintenance and operation of the system because so many people are on solar. In San Antonio, we have about 8 megawatts of solar distributed in a system that’s more than 7000 megawatts."

Sinkin said CPS Energy did not appropriately reach out to solar customers on what would be a fair rate, and certain solar projects are being put on hold because of the announcement.  

There are a few homes in San Antonio that are considered net-zero, meaning they generate as much energy as they use through solar installations and energy saving appliances. Sinkin said that through the new plan, if these homes are getting less credit than they generate, they are paying CPS Energy for their own electricity.

"What if you generated 2000 kWh, and that’s all you used, and you didn’t buy a single drop from CPS? You would still have to pay that 4 cent difference," Sinkin said. "They’re going to count what you generate in solar in your total usage. So they’re reaching out and grabbing the solar system and its generation and billing you for it and then not crediting you what they’ll bill you for; I think they may be violating federal law, we’re examining that question."

In response to that claim, CPS Energy said net-zero homes will still have to use the grid during periods when the sun is covered.

"Regardless, at some point in time even on a net-zero home, their home is not going to be producing energy. Patmon said. "Today, on a rainy day, is a perfect example of that. So the infrastructure has to be in place in order for them to receive energy on days when they’re not generating their own energy and the infrastructure has to be in place for them to deliver that energy to the grid."

In addition to the current net-metering plan, CPS Energy offers rebates up to $14,000 for adding solar installations to a home. The utility said that is a very generous rebate when compared to other cities.

"We have never promised anyone that they would have net-metering forever, we have never promised anybody that they would have a rebate forever," Patmon said. "These are incentives that we have put in place in order to help the solar industry grow. Prices of panels have fallen dramatically and now this industry should be able to stand on its own."

The SunCredit plan is only a proposal at this stage but if executives decide to go forward with the plan it will take effect on Nov. 1. Those with solar energy systems already installed will be grandfathered into the old rate for ten years.