Question and Answer
icon_question.jpg QUESTION: I’m considering installing solar panels at my home. Will I get paid for any "extra" energy that my solar power system produces?

ANSWER. You could! If your new system makes more energy than you use, the "extra" flows back into the grid and mixes with the vast pool of energy there. Whether you get paid for your contribution depends.

After you've installed those solar panels and the kilowatts start cranking-voila!-you are the owner of a small "renewable generator." This makes you eligible for a variety of rebates, both state and federal. But if you take advantage of the rebates, you can't also sell your extra power.
So let's say you accept the rebates and opt for the "net metering tariff." With net metering, the energy your system generates during the day is banked for you to use at night. When you draw power from the grid, your meter will spin forward; when you export power to the grid, your meter spins backwards. At the end of a year, you settle up with your utility: if you used more than you produced, then you pay for that power; if you produced more than you used, that exported power is your gift to the grid.  

If you say no to the rebates and net metering tariff, you might be eligible to sell power to the utility via a "power purchase agreement."

A power purchase agreement requires that you purchase and install a meter that tallies energy imports and exports separately. You pay standard rates for the power you use and you get paid for electricity you exported. You'll be paid at rates set by the CPUC. Will you get rich from these export sales? Umm. No. But whether you cash in on rebates or enter into a power purchase agreement, by installing a renewable energy system you'll be getting insurance against progressive increases in energy prices.

Skyrocketing fuel costs have pushed up utility bills nearly 30% in the past five years. Those same unstable fuel prices and the need to replace an aging power grid are causing utilities across the country to raise power prices an additional 29%. In the years ahead, even more dramatic price increases are anticipated. The price of coal has doubled in the last year, and natural gas prices are up nearly 50%. The cost to build new power plants has also doubled since 2000.

Notice a pattern here? Wondering how soon you can get those solar panels on your roof? A solar energy system will connect you to not just the grid, but to a bigger solution to climate change. In 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger approved the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires California's three major utilities: Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric, to produce at least 20% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010. Install a solar system and you are part of the solution. Don't drag your feet; rebates and PPAs are being offered on a first-come, first-served basis!