SAN ANTONIO -

I was shocked when I got a letter from CPS Energy a few weeks ago informing me that they were changing to a SunCredit system for customer solar installations.

The entire solar industry in South Texas was stunned. No warning, no discussion, just CPS saying this is the way it is going to be.

Their proposal changes the rules big time because they say the current system is unsustainable. That could be disputed, as I have seen well-reasoned cost/benefit analysis that conclude that customer-based solar is a net benefit to a utility company under the current net metering rules.

The way the current system works is that a customer-based solar array that is tied to the grid get straight retail credit of about 10¢ per KWH for each KWH produced. A customer like me still has to pay a full 10 cents for extra energy I buy to run my home. The goal is to make exactly as much power as you use to get your bill down to zero. Generally speaking, I still have a small bill to pay and still have to pay a charge to be connected to the grid just like everyone pays.

The proposed SunCredit plan means that a customer would have to pay for all of the power used in the home, including the power that is made by their solar array, then CPS would allow you a credit of 5.6 cents per KWH. What is baffling about the plan is that puny number. Basically, its about half of what they pay now. It's way less than the 12.5 cents credit Austin Power pays for solar. It's half of what CPS has agreed to pay OCI for the power off of their giant solar array.

Basically the proposed SunCredit steals power from a customer-based solar array for peanuts and then resells it back at full retail. What a bonanza for CPS and a terrible deal for a solar producer. It will virtually kill the local-based fledgling solar industry because no one would have an incentive to go solar. Why would anyone do it when CPS is just going to take your power?

CPS argues that they still offer generous rebates of $2 per watt installed. True, that is better than a lot of utilities pay, but it is still a huge bargain for them as they get solar infrastructure on their grid for a price that no one can match and they don't have to buy the property to install it on. Solar infrastructure is valuable because solar power peaks at peak demand time on a sunny hot day. It is also a point source of distributed power that cuts down the need for expensive transmission lines. The electrons generated on my array are distributed to my neighbors when they need it the most.

Bottom line is the net metering system is fair to everyone. You pay only for the electricity you use. The utility gets valuable solar infrastructure on their grid benefitting all electric customers. The fuel costs are fixed at zero and toxic emissions are cut to zero. It's a win-win situation. I know I have been grandfathered with net metering but I wish everyone could get a decent deal for going solar. SunCredit is not a good deal for anyone.

These opinions are only mine and are not endorsed or denied by my employer KSAT TV.

Steve Browne
Meteorologist