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USA: Customers upset over low solar energy payment

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) — Seven On Your Side is hearing complaints from a lot of homeowners these days who have solar panels on their rooftops. Many say they are paid too little for the surplus power they feed to the grid. PG&E says rates are actually set by regulators.

An estimated 65,000 PG&E customers have solar panels on their rooftops. The power they produce offsets their electric bills. However, many are producing much more energy than they use and by law their credits are wiped out at the end of the year. So some homeowners say that’s a giveaway and now they’re plugging in more appliances in an effort to use up their excess energy.

Mary Minton makes good use of the sun that beats down on her Sonoma house. With 18 solar panels, she’s producing enough power for her house and someone else’s too.

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“I’m thinking about advertising for somebody with an electric car and an extension cord. They can sit out in my driveway and charge,” said Minton.

Her neighbor Alan Piotter has 16 solar panels that also crank out more energy than he uses. He said, “Whatever surplus we had we just signed it over to PG&E without so much as a thank you.”

Previously, I told you about Harry Trayer of Petaluma. His solar panels feed surplus energy to the power grid too.

“It doesn’t seem fair to me. They’re taking what I generate and selling it someplace else,” said Trayer.

However, PG&E says it isn’t making money from selling that excess solar power.

“There’s a decoupling between electric use and our profit and that’s not very well understood,” said Denny Boyles from PG&E.

Here’s how it works: by law, homeowners in California can offset their electric bills by generating their own solar power, but if they produce more than they use, the credit on their bill is wiped out at the end of each year. A new state law does give homeowners a small payment for that surplus energy — about four cents per kilowatt hour, but customers say that’s practically a giveaway.

“I think they’re being very stingy about it,” said Minton.

Minton’s solar panels produced an extra1,600 kilowatt hours last year– enough to power another house for three months. For that she received $57.61. Trayer’s system produced 310 extra kilowatt hours. He got $10.35.

Piotter took a different route. Instead of taking a small sum, he’s using up his electricity. He said, “It would be a lot smarter for us just to use our electricity rather than sell the surplus to PG&E.” Piotter replaced a gas heater with this electric one. It devoured his surplus and he cut down his gas bill.

St. Assm. Jared Huffman, D-Marin County, says he’s hearing from many unhappy solar customers. He told us, “Well, there was a lot of resentment. People felt that if they were generating more power than they were using, and not getting anything for it, it was kind of a windfall to PG&E.”

However, PG&E says homeowners do get paid and the rates are set by the California Public Utilities Commission based on spot market prices.


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