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What Happened to East Valley Solar?

By Joshua Bennett

If you had a choice to buy your electricity generated by coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind or solar power and they all cost the same price, what would you choose?

The overwhelming majority of Coachella Valley residents think solar power is not only the best choice, but also the future of energy. However, if you live in the East Valley and Imperial Irrigation District (IID) is your utility, solar power is no longer a viable option for your household.  Recently, without warning, IID brought the consumer’s right to choose solar power to a grinding halt. This decision by IID not only affects the consumer but also a rapidly growing solar industry that has created hundreds of local jobs.

As disappointing as this news is, IID is well within their right to make this move. Net metering or (NEM) is the concept on which solar energy relies since currently there is no mainstream technology for storing solar energy. NEM is an agreement that mandates that utility companies give credit to the consumer for their excess solar energy generated by the consumer’s home or business solar system during each monthly billing cycle. On March 3, 2016, IID announced that they have met their 5% NEM cap. This means that any new interconnection applications for solar power are no longer eligible to receive credit for their solar energy, thus rendering the option of solar power for your home or business impractical.

Due to Greenhouse Gas Emission standards, IID needed to integrate 50 megawatts (MW) of solar to their infrastructure. The 5% cap number is based upon 1000 MW of peak demand placed on the grid. This means the one instantaneous moment in time in which load on the grid is the greatest – for example the hottest day in July. The surprising part of this situation is that the 5% cap number was forecasted to be achieved through the years of 2017-2020.

So here we are a full year early and the NEM subscription has been filled. Just as soon as the ecologically responsible option of solar power was gaining popularity in the East Valley, it was gone leaving many scratching their heads.

People in the IID district who already switched to solar will continue to receive credit for their solar power for the next 20 years. This makes homes with solar power even more desirable going into the future. Unfortunately, everyone else is on the outside looking in, until IID offers either an increased cap or a revised version of NEM.

Southern California Edison (SCE) also has a 5% NEM cap which, at the current rate of new applications for the program, is nearly filled. Unlike IID, SoCal Edison will offer NEM 2.0 but the successor version will not be as favorable for consumers as version 1.0 as the new parameters of the program will limit the number of people who will qualify for solar energy.

Josh Bennett is a NABCEP trained solar consultant with Solar City. He has a passion for sharing environmental sustainability education and can be reached at (760) 534.3978. Additional information on your utility’s NEM program parameters can be found on their website.

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