Farmers might stop adopting solar if California changes rate system

Late last year, the California Public Utilities Commission adopted a new distributed rooftop solar pricing system, greatly reducing customer financial incentives. The new Net Billing Tariff (formerly Net Energy Metering) addressed the inequalities that benefited customers with solar at the expense of those who didn’t have it.

Now the regulator is considering other changes to NEM programs. Unfortunately, those changes are designed by self-serving utilities to make it impossible for apartment buildings, renters, schools, and farmers to continue adopting solar energy.

Customers are currently allowed to install one solar project which serves multiple tenants, buildings, or irrigation pumps on the same property. All of these customers have one thing in common — multiple loads and meters at the same location. The proposed changes pushed by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and their Southern California monopoly brethren will eviscerate the ability of these customers to continue adopting on-site renewable energy. 

Renewable energy systems being installed on the state’s farms are the cornerstone of the state’s climate smart agricultural practices championed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The systems not only help California achieve renewable energy goals, but also enable important farm water conservation efforts, such as the state’s highly successful State Water Efficiency Enhancement Program program.

Climate smart farming and more sustainable food systems can’t happen if farms are precluded from installing distributed renewable energy systems, especially as they seek to electrify more operations and equipment on their farms.

PG&E’s rates have already risen by 11.2% so far this year and will go far higher in the coming months as the CPUC ponders another multibillion-dollar rate increase over the next four years. Rates are also rising far faster than inflation in Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric territories. As utility rates increase, the investor-owned utilities are especially desperate to limit less expensive renewable options for their customers.

Both virtual net energy metering and net energy metering aggregation programs were legislatively created (SB 594, Wolk 2012) to provide multimetered customers with the same opportunities to install efficient renewable energy systems on their farms, schools, and other property. Until the NEM-A program was enacted, farms were largely unable to install solar systems. It simply made no sense to install and interconnect multiple small and inefficient systems behind every separately metered irrigation pump on the farm. Since NEM-A was created, rural agricultural renewable energy projects have flourished.

The CPUC addressed a major inequity issue when it cut payments for distributed net energy metering customers last December. Under the proposed decision, the agency would now create an even larger inequity, leaving millions of renters and thousands of farms out in the cold by precluding their ability to install renewable energy and fully utilize it on-site. That is why several dozen bipartisan legislators have weighed in with the CPUC in support of continuing the programs.

It makes zero sense. Maybe for once the CPUC can come down on the side of customers and the planet, not greedy self-serving monopoly utilities.

Roger Isom is the CEO of the Western Agricultural Processors Association, California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, and president of the Agricultural Energy Consumers Association.

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Governor Signs Ag Overtime Bill

Ignoring the pleas of real farmworkers and the agricultural industry, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today signed AB 1066, the ag overtime legislation. This means that California will have the most stringent trigger of any state in the country for overtime for farmworkers, with 45 states having no overtime protection at all. The Governor signed this bill, supposedly to bring “equality to all workers”, yet taxi cab drivers, commercial fishermen, car salesmen, student nurses, computer programmers, and carnival workers all work without any overtime provisions whatsoever. The Governor signed this ag overtime bill in the same year that minimum wage legislation was also passed that will take California to the highest minimum wage as well as legislation forcing California to adopt additional greenhouse gas regulations for businesses in California. California is the only state in the country subject to such regulations. Today’s signing occurred despite numerous requests by the agricultural industry to meet with the Governor to discuss our concerns. The message is clear. California simply doesn’t care. These provisions will be phased in over the next few years ending with the overtime provisions to be triggered at 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week.

In the Beginning As folks transitioned out of cotton and into tree nuts, the industry recognized the need to have active and effective representation at the local, state and national levels. Having enjoyed such effective representation over the years from the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations, these folks yearned for the same representation in the tree nut processing industry. Issues such as air quality, food safety, labor, taxes, employee safety, and environmental concerns are at the forefront, and there is a significant need for an aggressive and dynamic Association to lead the industry into the next decade and beyond. In recognition of this, the Western Agricultural Processors Association was created in 2009. The Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA) shares staff and office space with the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations taking advantage of a unique and opportunistic situation. WAPA is a voluntary dues organization with four shared staff and one dedicated staff person. Regulatory, legislative and legal issues fall under the purview of this new organization for the tree nut processing industry, which includes almonds, pecans, pistachios and walnuts. From air quality permits to conditional use permits, from regulatory hearings on greenhouse gases to federal legislation on food safety, and from OSHA violations to assisting members on hazardous materials business plans, no issue is too small or too large for WAPA. WAPA has assembled one of the best and most capable staffs in the industry, and the results are already starting to show Membership The Western Agricultural Processors Association represents facilities involved in the processing of almonds, pecans, pistachios and walnuts.Membership in the Association is classified as Regular memberships are limited to almond hullers or processors, pecan and pistachio processors, and walnut dehydrators and processors. Associate memberships are limited to any individual or business entity which is not engaged in agricultural processing, but which provides products or services directly related to the agricultural processing industry. WAPA Associate members include, but are not limited to, commodity brokers, accounting firms, and insurance brokers. Organization The Western Agricultural Processors Association is governed by a Board of Directors, elected by its membership.The Board consists of up to 15 members from throughout the state, and throughout the industry.The Board meets on a quarterly basis and conducts an Annual Meeting in the spring of each year.WAPA, in conjunction with the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations, conducts a special training school for its members focused on safety.In combination with the school, the Association holds a Labor Management Seminar for all of the managers. Consulting Services In researching and considering the concept of forming a new organization, the Boards of Directors for the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations instructed staff to perform some of the work on a consulting basis first. The point was to determine the workload from consulting and to determine if there was sufficient interest. In November of 2007, the Association began conducting services under consulting contracts for such services as air quality permits and safety plans.The effort has been so successful that demand has progressed outside the tree nut industry into other agricultural processing facilities, including vegetable dehydration facilities, tomato processing facilities, and wheat mills, as well as cotton gins in Arizona.It was determined by the new Board of Directors of WAPA, that WAPA would maintain the consulting services to provide offsetting income to help with the expenses of getting the new organization up and running.Today, WAPA provides for a long list of satisfied clients in the agricultural processing industry, by providing critical services such as air quality, safety, food safety, and environmental issues (Hazardous Materials Business Plan, Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plans, etc.).