Solar energy users fear new fees

FRESNO, Calif.

Users are saving money or at least breaking even on the cost of the solar system thanks to a program called "net metering," which allows those with solar power to deduct the cost of the electricity they produce from their energy bill.

But there's concern the situation will change.

"We are concerned about a potential fee that could come into play for people who have already gone solar."

Tom Cotter a solar energy contractor is worried that a recent proposal made by a San Diego utility, to charge solar users a more than 20 dollar a month maintenance fee will catch on, and spread. Something solar user George Burman finds unsettling.

"I live in a three bedroom townhouse and last year our total electric usage bill was less than $300. But you know, $20 or $25 a month would almost equal what we pay in electricity and that doesn't seem right."

While the San Diego proposal didn't get past the state Public Utilities Commission because they believed it violated state law, utility companies say solar users are getting a break, since they do not have to pay a fee for line maintenance that other users pay as part of their bills.

"Essentially customers who choose not to have solar installed or can't afford to have solar installed are going to end up paying a higher share of those expenses if something isn't changed."

However, PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles says the utility has no plans to seek such a fee.

"Right now though there's not any active discussion about it. PG&E has been a huge supporter of solar, we actually have 63 thousand customers with rooftop solar."

But, San Diego Gas and Electric is asking the state legislature to take a look at the fairness of "net metering" and perhaps changing the law for all utilities statewide.

So, Cotter says it's an issue that solar power supporters are expecting to resurface again, soon.

"We want residents to know about this before it's too late for them to speak up."

Utility companies think such a fee may be fair, but solar power advocates say it would be an obstacle to generating more clean energy.

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