Water district may join fight over proposed solar fee

By Karen Brainard

With two solar projects in the works, the Ramona Municipal Water District is going to consider if it wants to join a coalition of public agencies fighting San Diego Gas & Electric’s proposal to charge fees to solar customers.

SDG&E filed an application with the California Public Utilities Commission in early October for the new rate structure.

RMWD Legal Counsel Sophie Akins of Best, Best & Krieger LLP, (BBK) brought up SDG&E’s proposal at the water board’s Nov. 22 meeting.

She referred to a North County Times article published the previous day that had some public agency officials, including the Valley Center water district general manager, saying they would lose on their solar investments if the SDG&E rate takes effect.

“BBK’s representing a coalition of 10 agencies — school districts, the county water authority and water agencies — who currently have solar in the ground either through direct ownership or under a power purchase agreement,” said Akins. “We’re at a very preliminary stage in the proceedings.

“We’re just in the process of determining the actual impact of the proposal on our agencies, on our clients’ solar systems.”

Akins said SDG&E is basically proposing a new kind of demand or standby charge.

“They’re proposing unbundling it from the electricity rate and charging solar customers for the use of their system,” explained Akins.

RMWD is installing solar projects at its Santa Maria and San Vicente sewer treatment plants at no cost to the district, under 20-year power purchase agreements.

The district will purchase all electricity generated by the solar projects at an agreed upon price. After 20 years, the water district can either purchase the solar installations, extend the agreements or have the solar provider remove the installations.

The water district has estimated it could save $1.5 million over the 20 years in electricity costs.

Akins suggested returning to the board and meeting in a closed session to “determine whether the district would be interested in potentially participating as part of this coalition.”

Board Vice President Darrell Beck, acting as president in Bryan Wadlington’s absence, asked that the matter be included at the board’s next meeting on Dec. 13.

Because the proposed solar rate was not an agenda item last Tuesday, the board could not comment or ask questions. Later in the meeting, however, SDG&E’s proposed solar rate cropped up during a discussion on possible power reliability options for RMWD’s Poway pump station.

Director Kit Kesinger suggested the district explore solar installations as an energy source for the pump station.

Akins said she is a proponent of renewable energy but, because of SDG&E’s proposal and the impact to rates, she is advising clients who have not yet entered into a solar project agreement to hold off until the California Public Utilities Commission gives a final determination on SDG&E’s application.

“An additional issue that I foresee with solar photovoltaic at this time,” said Akins, “is that storage technologies are not yet as advanced or as inexpensive as we would like and they would likely be cost prohibitive.”

Kesinger asked when the CPUC’s ruling was expected. Akins responded that most participants do not foresee it being completed until probably the end of 2012.

Power reliability options for the Poway pump station were broached by the board after the massive Southern California power outage on Sept. 8.

RMWD General Manager David Barnum told the board that DE Solutions began an assessment of energy options and possible cost savings to the Poway pump station in 2008. The station pumps water 1,000 feet up the hill to Ramona from Poway.

A list of ideas had been narrowed to three possibilities: a permanent diesel generator, natural gas engine driven water pumps, or a natural gas generator set (COGEN).

Director Joe Zenovic said he would push consideration of a natural gas pipeline instead of “old technology diesel.”

The board gave the OK for an agreement to be executed with DE Solutions to complete the 2008 study with a not-to-exceed budget of $4,500.

In other business, the board accepted the annual financial audit for fiscal year 2010-11, which ended on June 30.

Barnum said the independent audit firm of Hosaka, Rotherham & Company gave an unqualified opinion, the best possible result. Barnum reported that revenues are up slightly and costs are down slightly. In an effort to be transparent, Barnum said, Zenovic, board treasurer, was included in the final client meeting with the auditors.

Related posts:

  1. Water district looks into solar
  2. Power outage costs water district $17K
  3. Conserve water through outage
  4. Water district expects to generate savings with solar
  5. Water district’s public hearing on rates scheduled for Tuesday

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Posted by Karen Brainard on Dec 3 2011. Filed under News, Ramona. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

6 Comments for “Water district may join fight over proposed solar fee”

  1. [...] Water district may join fight over proposed solar feeRamona SentinelWith two solar projects in the works, the Ramona Municipal Water District is going to consider if it wants to join a coalition of public agencies fighting San Diego Gas & Electric's proposal to charge fees to solar customers. … [...]

  2. Mike

    What people fail to understand is this, as people use items that lower their electric bills such as LED or compact flourescent bulbs, solar panels, etc. SDGE still needs to generate X amount of dollars to run the company. The per kilowatt rate that SDGE charges is agreed upon by the PUC based on the needs to run SDGE (maintenance, new construction, etc) and how much electricity is sold. Since their is a mild climate in San Diego they sell less electricity than somehwere back east with hot summers and cold winters. That's why the per kilowatt hour rate is higher for SDGE. They sell less electricity than a similar sized utility elsewhere. But they still need to generate the same profit to provide for the same work to be done.

    Since everyone is using newer, more efficient appliances and there is more and more solar going in, guess what happens to the amount of electricity being sold? With less electricity being sold the utility goes back to the PUC and having the same need to generate money to run the business the price per kilowatt hour goes up.

    I for one do not have thousands of dollars to spend on a solar installation, and the majority of San Diegans are in the same boat as me. If a large company or a customer with extra cash wants to put in some solar then good for them. Their reduction in usage will eventually find its way into my kilowatt hour rate and make my bill go up. I should not have to pay for their luxury.

    Large customers like the water company get a reduced commercial rate anyway.

    • Jim

      Mike- That is the most ridiculous argument I have ever heard! The profit margin for SDG&E, or any other utility company (read RMWD) should not the concern of the consumer. Let's not forget the salaries of those utility executives does not seem to be adversely impacted by more efficient appliances, more solar installations or water conservation efforts.

      If I am on a well or using solar do you really expect me to pay those utilities I am not using? I would hope not.

      Obviously if I am using solar and still tied to SDG&E I am still paying a standard fee as well as paying the same rate as anyone else using the same amount of power from the company. I should not pay a higher price for the same amount of anything as another consumer!

      I won't even bother addressing your absurd claim that our higher price for electricity is because we use less electricity here in San Diego.

      I am sure Sempra Energy and SDG&E nimble enough to run their company profitably without gouging their solar customers.

    • Richard Tomlinson

      Mike, you do not need $1,000s of dollars to have a Solar System installed. The solar companies install the system for zero ($0) dollars on your house. You then pay a smaller monthly fee to the solar company than you did to SDG&E. SDG&E makes money buying energy cheap and transporting it and selling it at a higher price, that is how the new business model works. You could have a solar system installed on your house in spring with out it costing a dime. I don't sell systems but I am getting one. E-mail if your interseted how to get a system for zero out of pocket.

      notcivil@cox.net

  3. Mark Felt

    Mike,

    It sounds like the same argument the water district uses to raise water rates. "When people use less water, the cost per gallon of water goes up to cover fixed costs." I suspect the reason why both power and water conservation is being forced on everyone is the same: The environmental movement in California has killed our water resources and construction of power generation facilities. Until the root causes of the problem are addressed, we're just spittin' in the wind.

  4. Mike

    Richard, if it really was "free" to put solar panels on peoples roofs don't you think SDGE would of done it long ago?

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