By Kurtis Ming

A $9.30 monthly energy bill?

As the weather warmed and the sun began to shine in his Sacramento neighborhood last February, the solar panels Edward Robinson had purchased for about $30,000 were finally paying off, saving him about $150 a month.

Or so he thought.

“It’s totally confusing,” said Robinson of his bill — and of the explanation he said he was given by the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, his energy provider. “It’s as confusing to [them] as it is to [us].”

His February bill actually indicates he used $109.64 worth of energy, but — strangely enough — that amount is credited back to him in full, leaving only the basic service and connections fees due.

That pattern that has been repeated on his monthly bills ever since; the more energy Robinson uses, the more he is being credited back.

His last bill from October credits him about $1,150 — energy he’s using, but not being asked to pay.

Not yet, anyway.

“I wouldn’t say it’s confusion,” said Bill Layne, who oversees the rooftop solar panel billing program for SMUD. “I would say they’re not used to seeing a different bill.”

The bill credits rooftop solar customers with their full energy use until the last month of the customer’s yearly billing cycle. In that final month of the year, solar customers have to pay up — in full.

In other words, credits are actually charges.

Solar customers who generate power can sell it back to public utilities at the end of the year, Layne said — as stipulated by California Bill AB920, which was signed into law January 2011.

AB920 allows rooftop solar customers to choose between paying for their energy use monthly, as has been the custom, or yearly, at which point the customers’ solar energy generation is subtracted from their balance due.

SMUD credits back customers’ energy use each month, so it doesn’t show as due, but Robinson said that means hundreds of solar customers could be in for an expensive surprise at the end of the year.

As of late October, Layne said SMUD had received calls from 40 to 50 rooftop solar customers with concerns or questions about the new system.

“It’s a new program,” Layne said. “We’re going to look at it to see if we can improve it, but right now we’re just working through it as customers call.”

After CBS Sacramento got involved, SMUD said it would be sending out letters explaining the billing to all 2,400 rooftop solar customers Nov. 9.

Robinson told CBS Sacramento he’s made several calls to SMUD for clarification but still doesn’t fully understand the system. In the meantime, he’s sending checks to SMUD now anyway — hoping to reduce his end-of-year bill — something the utility said it welcomes customer to do.

But Robinson is still concerned many of those 2,400 rooftop solar customers will be stuck with a steep bill, just when they think their solar panels are working well.

“If it happened to me, it’s happening to other people,” said Robinson, “and that’s frightening.”

Comments (7)
  1. still kicking says:

    OK, I read this and still don’t understand it. So this guy paid $30k for his solar system, and was probably told he would never have to pay another cent in power utilities, and now he owes over $1000 so far this year? How much was his bill last year adding up all the months thru October? Is he actually saving anything at all and how long is the payout suppose to be on this $30k system? I am an avid supporter of alternative sources of energy but any time a product is being hustled door to door with the intensity that roof top system are being pushed tells me these companies are running a major scam on their clients. I wish this guy luck.

  2. i love the sun but ca don"t love it scam says:

    you are right ca is one big scam . let say you only use 10.8 KWH per day and then you put in a solar system ,you would only use solar and not SMUD that saving can go into, too pay off the solar right! ha scam scam scam

  3. Edward Robinson says:

    the panels have saved me on average around 5% in the winter months and as high as 20% in the summer. With only 7 panels I was warned it wouldn’t pay for itself but since they have been installed they have produced 4.4.megawatts and offset 2.79 tons of carbon. Maybe not good for my bottom line but feels good for my soul…

  4. i love the sun but ca don"t love it scam says:

    feel good to the soul i get that! but you can do the same thing by using less KWH to offset the carbon and having trees is also good for the soul

  5. barbara scabrough 916-225-0882f says:

    hi kurtis i’m going thur some hard times at my work. i report some wrong doing inmates being release and not serving all there time once a voilation has been committ at the instution level. once i report this to warden and the cheif deputy now their commin after me i hope you can help me pleae i report wrong doing on 10-24-2011 and they put under incestgation on 10-25-2001. help i’m fallin and can’t bounce back.

  6. landsknekt says:

    This looks pretty straight forward. I don’t understand the confusion.

    read this:

    Sacramento – Californians have two more reasons to go solar tonight. Governor Schwarzenegger signed two popular solar bills designed to give consumers added incentive to invest in a solar roof and help the state achieve its aggressive clean energy goals.

    AB 920, authored by Assembly member Jared Huffman (D-Marin) and sponsored by Environment California, radically changes the dynamic between consumer and utility by requiring utility companies to write a check to their customers for surplus solar electricity generated on an annual basis. Previously, under the state’s net metering law, utility companies were allowed to receive surplus solar electricity from their customers for free. AB 920 requires the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to set a rate at which utility companies shall compensate solar customers whenever a solar system generates more electricity than a home or business uses in a given year.

    “Instead of writing a check to your utility company, you’ll be getting a check back,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate with Environment California which sponsored the legislation. “Changing the dynamic between utility and customer is key to encouraging more people to invest in solar power while also maximizing conservation and energy efficiency.”

    AB 920 was supported by numerous groups and people around the state including the Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, NRDC, Planning and Conservation League and many more. It was also embraced by officials such as the San Diego Board of Supervisors.

    “As we work towards increasing our energy independence and promoting renewable energy resources, this bill will encourage more people to invest in renewable energy,” said Assembly member Jared Huffman, author of the bill. “This goes a long ways towards California meeting its goal of the Million Solar Roofs initiative under SB1 and clean air standards established under AB 32, as well as ensuring that consumers get a fair return on their investment.”

    SB 32, authored by Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino) and sponsored by the California Solar Energy Industry Association, establishes a new feed-in-tariff program for the state. A feed-in-tariff policy requires utility companies to purchase solar electricity at a set rate over a twenty-year period. It has the potential to incentivize massive solar installations on large, unused spaces, such as parking lots and warehouses. This program has been used with much success in places like Germany.

    “Watch out. California is about to give Germany a run for the money,” said Del Chiaro. “Every warehouse roof, every parking lot, every unused sunny space can now become a mini-power plant generating pollution free solar electricity all while making money for the property owner.”

    AB 920 and SB 32 were both signed on the last possible day the governor could act on bills passed on the final days of the 2009 legislative session.

    “We applaud Governor Schwarzenegger for signing these two big solar bills,” said Del Chiaro. “Given PG&E’s opposition to AB 920 in particular, the governor’s signature further solidifies his commitment to achieving the vision of building a million solar roofs in California.”

    There were several other solar and clean energy bills which did not become law this year. AB 560 (Skinnner) would have increased the cap on net metering from 2.5% to 5%. The bill never made it out of the senate and is expected to be revived in 2010. AB 64 (Krekorian) and SB 14 (Simitian) would have increased California’s renewable portfolio standard to 33% by 2020. These two important clean energy bills were vetoed by the Governor tonight as well. The policy is expected to be raised again in 2010.

  7. JMHO55 says:

    Every single letter SMUD has sent out related to solar energy programs has been confusing to say the least. You read these letters over and over and still don’t understand what they’re trying to tell you. They need to hire someone who knows how to communicate, unless SMUD is deliberately trying to confuse people.

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