Activists, customers protest SMUD ahead of vote for new solar rates

Local News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Climate change activists protested outside of SMUD’s headquarters as board members voted on Thursday to approve a new solar power rate change for existing and future customers.

When it comes to solar energy, SMUD customer Alan Escarda takes it very seriously. In 2004, he installed a $15,000 SMUD solar system on top of his roof, but now he and others are growing more concerned over SMUD’s latest proposal to change the rate of compensation for solar customers.

“This is a solar killer, this proposal that they’re about to vote on tonight,” Escarda told FOX40.

Ben Davis, with the California Solar and Storage Association, said the credit SMUD customers earn through the Net Energy Metering, or NEM, program will go from 13.2 cents per kilowatt-hour to 7.4 cents, adding this will only hurt existing solar customers’ return of investment and disincentive new ones.

“Starting in January, SMUD will reduce the credit that customers receive for the energy they send back to the grid by 44% which will make solar unaffordable,” Davis explained. “Homeowners make the decision to go solar in part for environmental reasons and in part for financial reasons. If SMUD makes solar uneconomical then customers in SMUD will stop going solar.”

However, SMUD spokesperson Lindsay Vanlaningham disagrees, saying this proposal comes after an extensive two-year energy study that shows SMUD is currently offering incentives well above market price.

“The true value of solar in the SMUD service territory is more like 4to 7 cents per kilowatt-hour,” Vanlaningham said. “So what we’re seeking to do is sort of right-size what we’re compensating people, make it fair for all of our customers, but also make it fair for SMUD as well.”

Vanlaningham also says once the proposal is approved the impacts won’t be seen right away, especially for existing customers like Escarda.

“They will continue to get the rate that they’re on until 2030, it’s simply new customers that put solar rooftops on their homes starting January 2022,” Vanlaningham explained.

Yet Davis maintains SMUD is working outside of its limits.

“They’re pulling the rug out from those customers that have already made that investment. The state has said, ‘You have to give 20 years,’ and SMUD is saying regardless of when you went solar, we’re ending it in 2031 which is 10 years,” Davis said.

“SMUD says any power I produce is a loss of revenue and is considered a cost to SMUD, and I really disagree with that because the cost was born by me, I spent $15,000 to put that up there, not SMUD,” Escarda said.

Davis and Escarda hope Thursday’s protest outside of SMUD’s headquarters will bring more awareness to a decision they feel will negatively impact California’s renewable energy efforts

“We’re going to continue to argue and lobby with them that this rate is unacceptable,” Escarda said.

The protest comes after President Joe Biden announced the need to double the amount of solar energy across the U.S. to fight climate change.

Davis said SMUD’s decision will only hinder that process.

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