I am the author of Assembly Bill 2514, a bill to study the costs and benefits of net energy metering. Unfortunately there has been a lot of misinformation regarding net metering in general, and my bill specifically.

Net energy metering is a program enacted more than a decade ago to promote solar power in California. By law, investor-owned utilities like PG&E, Edison, and SDG&E are required to give up to 5% of their customers credit for electricity that they generate themselves at home using solar panels.

The idea behind the program is to promote alternative energy: if you put solar panels on your roof, you can sell your extra power to the utility at retail rates. It sounds great, and it has been a big factor in California’s enormous solar growth.

But one drawback to this program is the potential for cost shifting. Only a relatively small portion of your utility bill comes from power generation, about 40 to 45 percent. The remainder pays for grid maintenance, public purpose programs and low income assistance, as well as overhead for the utilities like meter-reading, customer service, and other costs of business.

But net metering gives full retail credit to customers who don’t do anything beyond power generation. This means net metering customers are able to offset their contribution toward California’s public purpose programs that provide assistance to low-income customers and support energy efficiency and solar rebates. These costs don’t go away – they are paid for by the rest of the utility customers. This means higher electricity bills for anyone who is not a net metering customer.

So if you do not have the ability to install a solar system—either because you cannot afford it, or you do not own your home or apartment—you may be subsidizing those who do have solar. The 5% cap on net metering was enacted to limit the amount of this cost-shifting that would occur as a result of the program.

This week the California Public Utilities Commission decided to change the way that cap is calculated, which will have the effect of doubling the amount of net metering customers coming online. This could mean even more cost-shifting, which is unfair to non-solar customers and endangers the sustainability of the grid when maintenance costs are not shared fairly by everyone.

In California, more than 25 percent of electricity customers are served by publicly owned utilities, like Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. In those areas, net metering customers pay their cost of maintaining the grid and their share of public purpose programs.

Customer acceptance, state and federal incentives, financing and declining costs have resulted in more customers signing up for net metering. This is a good thing. But with so many new solar customers taking advantage of net metering, we lack information about how the transferring of grid maintenance costs affects other ratepayers. Likewise, we cannot quantify the benefits of net metering that are accruing to ratepayers. Current estimates range that the cost is “not much” to “it will grow to $1.5 billion per year.” We need better information to understand the cost and benefits.

This is why I am calling for a study to be done on net energy metering. We should not be making such drastic changes to the program before we have solid data to inform our decision. This examination will ensure the Legislature will have this information when net metering legislation is considered. AB 2514 requires the California Public Utilities Commission to prepare the study by June 2013.

The North County Times recently declared “No need to rush” in deciding to raise the net metering cap. They asked, “Why not go back to the Legislature—the elected representatives of the people—and ask for clarification and guidance?” A proper study of the program will give us that guidance.

There is no doubt that I support solar energy. With the right information we can make sure California continues to be the national leader in clean energy in a sustainable and equitable manner.