[caption id="attachment_56143" align="alignright" width="324" caption="The left-pointing arrow on this electric meter indicates it's spinning backwards, feeding energy back into the grid."][/caption]

Local renewable energy proponents are lining up behind state Senate Bill 594, designed to require PG&E to allow customers who have more than one electric meter on their properties to aggregate the loads and install a renewable energy system to offset it.

“Right now they have to install one system per meter,” said Gopal Shanker, president of Recolte Energy, a St. Helena consulting firm.

Each installation requires multiple rebate applications, system designs, utility interconnection agreements, and distribution lines, he said. Some property owners may not be able to install renewable energy systems at all because they don’t have space available next to each meter.

[caption id="attachment_56144" align="alignleft" width="360" caption="El Molino High School’s solar system could have been built more efficiently, says architect."][/caption]

One of his clients, Far Niente Winery in Oakville, had to spend over $650,000 to interconnect its solar installation to the property’s main meter a mile away, although the winery had another meter immediately adjacent to the system to which it could have been connected, he said.

According to Tim Schmelzer, regulatory representative for the Wine Institute, the requirement raises a serious barrier to winery renewable energy projects.

“It’s very common for wineries to have multiple meters on the property. The requirement prevents them from building a system where it’s most efficient and of the size to take care of all their energy needs. It acts as a deterrent to winery energy renewal projects,” he said.

The Wine Institute is lobbying in Sacramento to pass the bill, which Mr. Schmelzer expects will emerge from budget and appropriations committees ready for a vote by the end of August.

PG&E defends its position by citing a need to maintain its infrastructure.

“Owners of renewable energy systems such as solar are essentially getting a free ride at the expense of customers who can’t afford or don’t want to generate their own electricity,” said spokesperson Linsey Paulo.

“We fully support solar – we have over 65,000 solar customers, more than 30 percent of all U.S. rooftop solar installations. But our concern going forward is that with more people going solar, fewer are paying the charges associated with transmission. Aggregating meters means more will be put to use and leads to more traffic over our lines.”

 Mr. Shanker disagrees.

“I understand the utilities’ concerns about cost shifting, but those concerns are misplaced here,” said Mr. Shanker. “First, this bill operates within existing California’s net metering law. Second, according to the CPUC, meter aggregation will improve the cost-effectiveness of net metering for ratepayers.”

Finally, customers – not PG&E, nor the ratepayer – generally pay for the distribution infrastructure on their own properties, he pointed out.

“By installing multiple systems, customers are being asked to install new distribution lines instead of being able to use the existing ones that they have already paid for,” said Mr. Shanker.

Schools as well as wineries often have more than one meter and suffer under the current requirements, according to Aaron Jobson of Quattrocchi Kwok Architects in Santa Rosa.

“Analy High School has a meter in the district office, one at the school and another at Laguna Continuation School, all on the same property. The district could have saved a significant amount of money by building one large system instead of smaller, carport systems,” said Mr. Jobson.

He serves on the board of the School Energy Coalition, a lobbying group in Sacramento that supports the senate bill.

“Meter aggregation is not a stand-alone issue,” said Jeri Gill, CEO of Sustainable Napa County, a community action group in Napa. “As another barrier to renewable energy, it’s an important part of our larger goals for an environmentally healthy, sustainable region.”

Also supporting the senate bill are the CPUC, the Napa County Board of Supervisors, the cities of Napa and American Canyon, and numerous agricultural associations, commercial developers, non-profits, retirement communities, and individuals.