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Marlene Murphy-Roach: PG&E wants to raise the roof on solar

Salvador and Richarda Mendoza of Fresno are among nearly 20,000 Fresno customers of PG&E who are using solar power. The couple received a solar system for free this spring as part of a state program to help low-income people living in poor areas.
Salvador and Richarda Mendoza of Fresno are among nearly 20,000 Fresno customers of PG&E who are using solar power. The couple received a solar system for free this spring as part of a state program to help low-income people living in poor areas. Fresno Bee File

PG&E has a long history with solar power. We hooked up the first rooftop panel to the electric grid in 1993 – back when most people connected to the Internet over dial-up modems, smartphones were science fiction and the solar industry was in its infancy.

In Fresno alone, we’ve connected nearly 20,000 solar customers – in fewer than five days, in most cases, which is better than the industry average of a month. Over the past six months, we’ve seen rooftop solar adoption in Fresno increase by more than 20 percent. Along with The Fresno Bee’s editorial board, we applaud the amazing amount of solar energy that our customers have generated. And we want to see this continue to grow.

Even with our strong solar track record, some people question our support of solar. But the answer is simple and clear: California’s future depends on solar energy and so, too, does the success of California’s utilities. None of us can get where we need to go without it.

But as more solar comes online, linking the many new clean-energy technology innovations and ensuring they are able to work together will require that the grid keep pace with new demands. The grid is enabling this clean-energy economy, providing a platform for not only solar but also electric vehicles, batteries and other technologies that are still being imagined to meet energy needs with a smaller environmental footprint.

The grid provides the market that allows solar customers to sell the very energy that their solar panels create back to the local utility. It also keeps the lights on when it’s dark outside or when the sun isn’t shining.

Much has changed since rooftop solar became mainstream. The industry has matured and grown at an astonishing rate – residential solar costs have dropped more than 50 percent in the past six years.

What has not changed in decades is the current rooftop solar rate structure – it is dramatically out-of-date. Solar customers still sell back energy to utilities at the same heavily subsidized prices set nearly a quarter-century ago. This is why the state Public Utilities Commission has asked for proposals from PG&E and a number of diverse parties to frame a new solar structure for the future that ensures a sustainable solar market.

Our plan would increase the monthly charge for new solar customers by as little as $13, while still allowing typical solar households to cut their electricity bills by nearly 50 percent. New solar customers can still save big. Existing customers would not be affected by any of these proposed changes.

PG&E’s proposal provides strong discounts to solar customers while ensuring that the proper investments are made to the energy grid that will benefit everyone. Furthermore, the PUC’s analysis indicates that under our proposal, rooftop solar would continue to flourish – growing 300 percent to 600 percent in coming years.

Utilities aren’t the only ones weighing in. More than a dozen plans from a wide variety of stakeholders are under consideration. Other groups including consumer advocates and environmental groups agree that it’s the right time for reform and that we all need to invest in the energy grid to keep solar growing. Solar is an important topic and it’s critical that all voices are heard.

We helped build California in the 1800s and we are going to continue to evolve the grid to support our customers’ choices and expand clean energy options. Whether it is PG&E’s ideas that are implemented or a proposal from one of the many diverse set of stakeholders – we need solar reform that ensures everyone is investing in the energy grid of the future.

It’s up to all of us to work together. Solar is too important not to get right.

Marlene Murphy-Roach is the local PG&E senior manager based in Fresno.

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