Senator Wiener Introduces Legislation Banning Discriminatory Fees on Solar and Other Distributed Energy Resources (DER)

SB 953 restricts anti-competitive behavior by utilities towards clean energy sources such as solar and energy storage
February 11, 2020

Sacramento – Yesterday, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced new legislation to prohibit utilities from levying discriminatory and anti-competitive fees on owners of distributed energy resources (DER) such as rooftop solar panels and onsite energy storage.  More than one million Californians, and many businesses, have installed energy sources such as rooftop solar panels on their property in order to generate cleaner and cheaper electricity. Even though these clean energy sources often save consumers significant amounts of money, many utilities have come to see them as unwanted competition and have begun imposing arbitrary monthly fees on their owners to dis-incentivize their usage. SB 953 ensures DER owners will never be singled out with discriminatory fees for making a good choice for the environment.


SB 953 has strong bipartisan support. Senator Nielson (R-Tehama) is a principal co-author of the bill, and Assemblymembers James Gallagher (R-Chico), Mark Stone (D-Santa Cruz) and Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) are co-authors.


The bill will prohibit utilities from imposing fees on individual consumers as well as schools, businesses and government buildings that install solar panels or other DER. These options are often the most cost-effective, and provide savings not just for those who choose to use them on their properties, but for all utility customers. In fact, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) recently estimated that DER and energy efficiency have saved traditional utility ratepayers at least $2.6 billion in avoided transmission costs alone.


SB 953 is part of Senator Wiener’s broader legislative package to reform California’s electric sector and utilities, such as PG&E. He recently introduced SB 917, which would turn PG&E – the utility responsible for California’s deadliest wildfires as well as the mass power blackouts last fall – into a publicly owned utility. Senator Wiener also is authoring SB 378, which holds PG&E and other utilities accountable for the impacts of blackouts by levying hourly fees during the shut-offs and ensuring compensation for those harmed by the outages. SB 378 recently passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote.


SB 953 is sponsored by the California Solar & Storage Association (CALSSA).


“We’re in a climate emergency, and we must transition to a 100% clean energy economy. Solar and other decentralized forms of energy generation are part of that solution,” said Senator Wiener. “We can’t let utilities kill off our clean energy transition out of a desire to protect their turf. Utilities must be prohibited from penalizing customers who choose to use cleaner and cheaper energy sources. We’re long past the point where we can tolerate this kind of anti-competitive behavior.”


“The wildfires and blackouts are a wakeup call that our supersized electric grid is unreliable,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, the Executive Director of the California Solar and Storage Association. “The number one solution to this problem is local, clean energy -- such as rooftop solar and batteries. These technologies can not only keep the lights on during emergencies but can provide clean, highly reliable electricity year-round. How is it possible, then, that utilities are allowed to discriminate against solar users by charging them a fee simply for using the sun that falls upon their roof? There ought to be a law protecting California consumers from such anti-consumer behavior, and we thank Senator Wiener for taking on PG&E and the other utilities to put consumers first.” 


"California's one million solar users are doing their part to reduce the burden on the electricity grid and help the state meet its aggressive clean energy goals," said Dave Rosenfeld, Executive Director of Solar Rights Alliance, a nonprofit statewide association of solar users. "To harden the grid and protect the environment, utilities like SMUD should be working to help millions more install solar and batteries, not punishing solar users with discriminatory fees. This bill is a common-sense and much-needed step to protect people who are doing the right thing, and to get California's utilities to start treating California's solar users the right way: as an important solution to our state's pressing problems."


“In the face of wildfires and power shutoffs, local solar and batteries are helping California families power their homes with clean, reliable and safe energy,” said Alex McDonough, Sunrun’s Vice President of Public Policy. “Senator Wiener’s bill protects families with solar from unfair utility fees, helps California achieve its climate goals and protects local solar jobs.”


Solar owners across California explain their support for SB 953:


“Power shutoffs endanger the health and lives of many people with disabilities,” said Marg Hall, a disabilities and climate activist from Berkeley. "Home based storage and solar is the only solution on the horizon that can adequately meet the electrical needs of our community. People with disabilities, many of whom are low income, already face significant economic barriers to obtaining this life-saving technology. Discriminatory fees would make this situation much worse.”


"We chose solar because it reduces our electricity bill and also allows us to do our part to protect the environment," said Phil Kalstrom of Sacramento, "We were shocked when our local utility, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), attempted to charge rooftop solar customers, such as ourselves, for our efforts to embrace solar energy and reduce greenhouse gases. This act of charging solar customers for being a part of the solution is outrageous and should not be allowed."


“We are retired and on a fixed income, and we chose solar to protect ourselves from SDG&E's expensive rates so that we’ve have predictability in our bills,” said Betsy McCann of Escondido. "We also feel good that we're reducing our burden on the infrastructure by making our own energy from the sun. It is unsettling to think they could wipe out our solar savings with a discriminatory fee, and discourage others from doing the right thing. I hope this bill passes.”

"As a rooftop solar owner, I am proud contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases.  We are in a global crisis, our planet is deteriorating at a rapid rate, and must do our part to reduce the threat," said Gisla Dewey of Sacramento, "I am dismayed at the reluctance, even opposition, of the utility companies not to capitalize on this opportunity. Solar roof top owners should not be punished with extra fees for doing the right thing."


"Our energy provider, Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), attempted to charge us an arbitrary ‘grid access’ fee last spring, that was unsupported by any actual data about the cost of grid usage by solar users," said Lee Miller of Sacramento, "Thanks to public pushback to the SMUD board, this arbitrary fee proposal was tabled, but we are worried that it will come back in some form at some later date. We strongly support protecting the right of consumers to generate and store their own clean energy, without interference from utility companies that seem to not have the public’s best interest at heart."