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NEM 3.0 is the Law - Here's What You Need to Know!

01/04/23

  05:57:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1512 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Residential Solar, Net Metering, Solar Storage

NEM 3.0 is the Law - Here's What You Need to Know!

TL;DR: NEM 3.0 will drastically lower payback rates in SCE territory
Act before April 14th to lock-in the better rates of the current rules!


(NB: If you are NOT an SCE customer, you can ignore this entirely as it won’t affect you at all!)

In December, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) unanimously approved the Net Energy Metering (NEM) 3.0 proposed decision, making it the law in the territories serviced by the three Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs) - PG&E, SDG&E, and SCE.  While the final rules aren’t as bad as they started out to be (more on that below), they are still a disaster for the industry.  Here’s our take…

NEM Today…

NEM is the policy that allows solar power system owners to be compensated for the energy that they export to the grid.  Typically, because energy use at home is lower during the day, while your solar system is producing its greatest amount of energy, that energy goes back onto the grid, where the utility then sells it to your neighbor, just as if they had generated it themselves.  But the utility didn’t need to incur any cost to generate that energy, so it is only fair and right that the customer who had invested in that solar power system should be compensated for the excess they provide to the grid.

NEM has had two distinct iterations in IOU territory.  The original form of NEM was full retail compensation - that is, the utility customer was credited one-for-one for the energy that they export.  Since that is the same amount that the utility gets to charge the neighbor receiving that energy, the transaction is essentially a push for the utility.  While that is still the case with the municipal utilities like PWP and LADWP, it is no longer the case with the IOUs in general and SCE in particular.

Back in 2017, the CPUC rolled out NEM 2.0 - and while it was a disappointing departure from full-retail NEM, it wasn’t as bad as the IOUs wanted.  Instead, the changes added a one-time interconnection fee ($75 in SCE territory), required solar customers to be placed on Time-of-Use rates (as opposed to the more economically beneficial tiered rates), and introduced the concept of Non-Bypassable Charges which reduced the value of exported energy by a little over two cents per kWh.  (You can read my post explaining NEM 2.0 here.)  Existing NEM customers were “grandfathered” in for twenty years, thereby guaranteeing that they would retain the value of their investment.

However, that wasn’t the end of the IOU’s war against rooftop solar.  It was understood that there would be a subsequent rulemaking - NEM 3.0 - and the IOUs vowed to bring solar to heel when that rulemaking rolled around.  Indeed, solar managed to thrive in the years since NEM 2.0 went into effect, with California installing more than 1.5 million solar systems by last September.  

I have written at length about the NEM 3.0 Proposed Decision that was released in December 2021, and the solar industry’s efforts to fight it off (as in here, here, here, here, here, here, and here)!  There was good reason for our sense of urgency and our advocacy: the PD was a disaster!  It would have threatened the grandfathering of existing NEM customers, it would have imposed an outrageous tax on new solar systems, and it would have drastically cut the compensation rate for energy exported back to the grid.  If approved as proposed, it would have decimated the solar industry in IOU territories.  Fighting back was our only option.

First - the Good News…

Our unprecedented advocacy had positive results.  The initial PD was withdrawn, and we bought 11 months of delay allowing thousands of additional solar systems to be installed under NEM 2.0.  The rules as adopted leave alone the grandfathering for NEM 1.0 and 2.0 systems which will remain under their rules for 20 years.  Most importantly, we killed the solar tax that would have added a monthly charge of $6/kW on all new systems!

We made a lot of noise and we defeated some of the worst provisions of the original PD - kudos to all who wrote, and spoke, and marched, and called - it made a difference.

And Now, the Bad News…

But as important as those results are, we took a major hit when it comes to the export value of solar energy sent back to the grid - on average, roughly a 75% haircut - and the change happens overnight!  Instead of providing a “glide slope” of reduced export rates over, say, a five-year phase-in period, the drastically reduced export rates land as of April 14.  This will create a “gold rush” to get applications in before the rules change - more on that below.

Not only did the CPUC drastically lower the export rate, they made the means of calculating it completely Byzantine in its complexity, making modeling of export savings more complicated by orders of magnitude.  Under existing NEM 2.0 rules, your compensation was tied to when the energy was exported (since all solar customers were put on a Time-of-Use rate).  That meant you could be getting compensated under one of six export values: essentially high, medium, and low periods for both Summer and Winter seasons. 

By contrast, the new system uses one value for every hour of the year - 8,760 discrete values!  Seriously?

In an effort to provide some clarity out of that chaos, our friends at CALSSA boiled that down into this heatmap that averages those values down to “just” 576 values (12 months times 24 hours, times two categories - weekday and weekend).  Here’s the weekday version (click for larger):

SCE Weekday Export Rate heatmap
 

The color coding here is a simple gradient going from red for the lowest values to green for the highest.  There is one thing here that is really curious - see those two green numbers?  If you are exporting energy to the grid between six and seven p.m. during September, SCE is going to pay you nearly $3 for that energy!  Of course, there is very little solar output at those hours, but a properly programmed storage system can time its release of energy to coincide with those peak hours.

Clearly, solar power systems that also include storage will fair better under the NEM 3.0 rules than will solar only systems.  Which is great for those who can afford the extra expense of adding storage, but is awful for everyone else.

New SCE rateIn addition to the vastly lowered export rates, all solar customers will be forced onto the TOU-D-Prime rate.  That rate structure imposes a monthly fixed charge of $14.  (Compare that to the 3.1¢/day rate imposed on the tiered, Domestic rate that SCE customers were historically paying.)

The On-Peak rates are eye-popping!  If you are using energy during that 4-9 p.m. window in the summer you will be paying 54¢/kWh!  While that peak is crazy high, the  differential between On-Peak and Off-Peak is enormous: 30.7¢/kWh.  Again, if you have storage and can shift energy from mid-day production peaks for use after 4 p.m., you can leverage that difference.

Of course this reliance on storage to make NEM 3.0 less painful is in discord to the IOU’s professed concern for the inequities of solar - i.e., that it is only for the rich. Making the payback period for solar longer for everyone simply makes it less affordable by working-class people.  Needing to add storage on top of that, really pushes these systems toward the rich, and away from the middle class.  But then, this was never about concerns over lower income customers, this was always about protecting SCE’s profits.

Going Forward

Ok, so we are stuck with a bad decision that goes into effect April 14.  In order to qualify for NEM 2.0, the interconnection agreement must be submitted no later than April 13, and must be “free of major deficiencies and includes a complete application, a signed contract, a single-line diagram, a complete California Contractors State License Board Solar Energy System Disclosure Document, a signed California Solar Consumer Protection Guide, and an oversizing attestation (if applicable).“  The ruling doesn’t define what a “major deficiency” is, and up until now, it has been SCE’s sole discretion as to whether an application was complete and valid.  We have seen applications kicked for the most minor of issues, and if you submit near the deadline, and SCE kicks the application and you now miss the deadline, the value of your project will have changed drastically for the worst.

I’m not sure what other companies will do, but this is our intention: WE WILL NOT GUARANTEE SYSTEM SAVINGS FOR ANY APPLICATION SIGNED AFTER MARCH 31!

We can be certain that there will be problems as we get closer to the deadline, so the above rule will be hard and fast, and our contracts will reflect that reality.  So, a word to the wise: if you are thinking about going solar in SCE territory this year - act NOW!  You do not need to complete the project this year to qualify - you just need the application in and complete.  You have up to three years to actually complete the project!

It’s gonna be a crazy first quarter - the joys of riding on the solar coaster!  Get in touch now so that we can get the process completed in a timely manner.

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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