SACRAMENTO—Education leaders from around the state are speaking out against a proposal being considered by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that would make it unaffordable for schools to go solar in order to lower their energy costs and use the savings to support students and staff.

At issue are proposed changes to the Virtual Net Energy Metering (VNEM) and Net Energy Metering Aggregation (NEMA) programs. The programs let properties with multiple electric meters install a single solar system for the entire property, sharing one solar system’s electricity and net metering credits with all customers and meters on that property. This brings the benefits of going solar to many types of consumers who otherwise would not benefit from Net Energy Metering (NEM), the program that makes solar more affordable by crediting consumers with solar systems for the excess energy they produce and share back with the energy grid.

Last December the CPUC drastically reduced the value of solar credits for single-family homes under the NEM program. The proposed changes to VNEM and NEMA go even further by denying multiple meter properties the ability to consume the energy that they produce on-site without selling it all to the utility and buying it back at higher rates.

The vast majority of schools in California have multiple meters on their campus and would be harmed by the CPUC proposed decision. The changes would essentially eliminate the incentive to install rooftop solar and battery storage in California schools.

In addition to schools, the proposed changes would also discriminate against renters, farmers and other types of multimeter properties.

Recently passed resolutions by the Oakland Unified School District and the Los Angeles School Trustees Association urged the CPUC and Governor Newsom to “reject the recent virtual net energy metering/net energy metering aggregation proposed decision for multimeter properties, as it will hamper or dismantle altogether the ability of schools to avail themselves of the benefits of local, renewable, and affordable energy through rooftop solar and battery storage.” Instead, school leaders in Oakland and Los Angeles called on state leaders to “approve a net energy metering tariff for schools that includes full credits and savings for multifamily tenants and schools from customer-generated energy.”

Educators also spoke passionately against the CPUC proposal during the commission’s public hearing in late August.

Bryan Clausen, a San Luis Obispo School Board Member shared how the proposed decision will greatly impact the district’s plan to add solar to ten of its schools. “At schools, most of our energy consumption happens during daylight hours. […] As drafted, we would need to cancel our solar and battery programs because it would not be financially responsible for us to spend taxpayer money to deploy solar. (CPUC August 31 meeting at 56:61).

Sasha Horwitz, a Legislative Advocate with the Los Angeles Unified School District, talked about how schools use onsite solar to help reduce operating costs so limited resources can be targeted to their community-based missions. The CPUC’s proposed decision will hurt that effort. “Increases in energy expenditures directly reduce funding for educational services. Rising energy costs take money directly out of our classrooms. The proposal would make it economically unfeasible for schools, community colleges, and universities to install solar and storage.” said Horwitz. She called on the CPUC to reject the current proposal and instead support property-wide netting “so that schools can benefit from the local renewable energy their own solar systems generate.”  (CPUC August 31 meeting at 1:05:20).

Tina Fredericks, a Pasadena Unified School District Board Member, said the district is committed to being a leading voice in the fight against climate change. Because of that the district installed solar in 12 of its 25 campuses, with plans to build even more. The CPUC’s proposed decision would deny the district millions in annual savings it could invest in classrooms and teachers. In urging the CPUC to reject the proposals, Fredricks said “our children’s chance of a livable future is in your hands.” (CPUC August 31 meeting at 1:29:51).

Sam Davis, an Oakland Unified School District Board Member, explained how the district has new bond money dedicated to addressing climate change with rooftop solar on all major school projects. The proposed decision will hurt the cost-effectiveness of those projects and thus takes money directly out of Oakland classrooms. (CPUC August 31 meeting at 1:55:22).

A vote on the proposed decision by CPUC commissioners – originally scheduled for September 21 – is now expected on October 12. More information on VNEM, NEMA and the proposed changes is available here.