Sacramento solar users aim for “The Utility of the Future”

In March, Sacramento area solar users banded together and stopped their local utility (SMUD) from hitting solar users with a punishing $40-$60 / month fee. Encouraged that their voices were heard by SMUD, these solar users are now campaigning to help SMUD become a “The Utility of the Future.”

Solar users would have paid $40-60 more per month…just for having solar

At issue was a proposal by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) to hit its solar customers with a new fee of between $40 and $60 a month on average. Solar-powered businesses, which often have much larger solar systems could have paid hundreds more each month.

Solar users speak out, utility officials listen

Word got out quickly, and over Easter Weekend, over 1,200 solar users flooded SMUD officials’ inboxes with appeals to drop the solar fee proposal. Dozens of customers packed a SMUD hearing room to speak out against the fee. SMUD officials listened, and quickly withdrew their proposal.

Could SMUD become “The Utility of the Future”?

In June, 35 area solar users met at a local library to discuss next steps. The question on the table: could this grassroots energy be used to help SMUD encourage more people to adopt solar, rather than discourage it?

After all, solar is not only good for individual consumers, but it also saves the entire community money. That’s because fewer people using power from the grid helps SMUD avoid expensive grid infrastructure that it must otherwise build to meet the growing energy needs of our community.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease

When SMUD canceled the solar fee, they also committed to figuring out their future solar policies with community input.

Could our voices help steer SMUD towards policies that make it easier and more affordable for all SMUD customers to make and store solar energy at home or at work?

We often assume utilities will always see rooftop solar as a threat to their monopoly, and thus fight solar every step of the way unless the law stops them.

But maybe, could it be different for a nonprofit public utility like SMUD?

The Action Plan

At the June community meeting, Vote Solar staffer and former SMUD Board Member Ed Smeloff described his personal experience as a SMUD official in the 80s and 90s.

During that time, SMUD partnered with customers to reduce their energy use, using financial incentives that helped customers pay for insulation and more efficient appliances, and install solar panels.

Partnering with customers was a win-win then, and could be a win-win now. The group decided to move forward with the following Action Plan:

1) Make a Proposal. By September, draft and submit a detailed list of steps SMUD should take to encourage more solar.

2) Build Community Support. Build community support for the proposal through a petition, and by enlisting support from city and county officials. Specifically, to enlist 1,000 community members and officials to sign the petition by the middle of the fall.

3) Advocate directly to SMUD. Meet with SMUD Board members and testify at public hearings throughout the fall and into 2020.

How you can get involved

1) Sign the petition.

2) Circulate the petition. Publicize over email and social media.

3) Join our advocacy team. Email [email protected] and we’ll let you know when we have meetings with local officials, so you can join us and make your voice heard.

Nice job, local solar users!

Big shout out to Gabor Leidenfrost, Lee Miller and Alan Escarda (pictured below with Solar Rights Alliance’s Dave Rosenfeld) for leading the charge!