Over the past few months, eligible residents of Barbara County have had the opportunity to opt in to Community Choice programs: the Santa Barbara Clean Energy (SBCE) program for the City of Santa Barbara and the Central Coast Community Energy (CCCE or 3CE) program for the Cities of Goleta, Santa Maria and Solvang, as well as for the unincorporated areas of the County. As a reminder, SBCE and 3CE are “not-for-profit, locally-controlled, public agencies currently providing competitively priced electricity from clean and renewable energy resources to residents and businesses across communities throughout the Central Coast.”
In 2002, Assembly Bill 117 was signed into law, allowing cities and counties to participate in Community Choice Aggregation (CCA). CCA is a program that allows cities, counties, and Joint Power Authorities (JPAs) to procure electricity for individual customers within a defined jurisdiction. Customers not wishing to participate may opt out. Under CCA, the utility is still responsible for the transmission and distribution of electricity. A few years ago, in order to help meet the goal of 100% clean and renewable energy by 2030, and after a thorough feasibility study, Santa Barbara decided to implement CCCE.
Enrollment started in August 2021 and eligible residents received a form from their utility informing them about the program and offering them the opportunity to opt out. For both SBCE and 3CE public agencies, clean energy is the default option but residents can opt-out at any time.
For the City of Santa Barbara, Alelia Parenteau, Climate and Energy Manager of the City of Santa Barbara explains that “Everyone will automatically be enrolled in the 100% Green service, but can opt down to the Green Start option if they want their electric bill to stay the same.”
It is worth noting that although residents’ energy will now be coming from another agency (3CE or SBCE), customers will keep receiving one bill from the utility (SCE or PGE), including the generation charges.
Why are we telling you all this?
At Brighten Solar, we’ve been receiving many calls from past customers asking us about their bills and why it was much bigger than normal. So we dove into it and here’s what we found out.
An electric bill is always made of 3 things:
- Monthly charges (because you have solar panels) charged monthly by the utility (PG&E or SCE). These are about the same every month and between $5-$10. Customers are charged for these every month.
- Delivery charges charged monthly by PG&E/SCE. They are called NEM Charges for solar customers. They are accruing every month and customers pay them all at once after 12 months (true-up bill).
- Generation charges, charged monthly by 3CE or SBCE. Unlike before the switch to Community Choice when these charges were paid yearly (true-up bill), they are now charged monthly.
The main changes:
- Since the energy is no longer coming from the utility, they charged customers an anticipated True-up bill to close the “generation’ portion of your account with them;
- The utility is still the agency delivering the electricity to solar customers, so they keep charging them delivery charges;
- 3CE/SBCE are the new agencies generating the electricity solar customers use when the solar system is not producing, so they charge them generation charges;
- In the past, everything was handled by the utilities and blended into the bill.
Why were solar customers’ bills much higher than normal:
During the same period, the utilities charged customers a True-Up bill to close their account and 3CE/SBCE started charging them monthly for the generation charges, all during the “worst” solar production months (winter, i.e. low production of solar and high consumption of electricity). These are a lot of charges that solar customers were not used to seeing.
Hopefully the above explanation makes you feel better and reassures you that everything is correct and will balance out on a yearly basis. If you are worried that your system doesn’t produce the energy it should be producing, you can connect to your inverter online (SolarEdge or Enphase) or call us so we can check it for you. However, if you are concerned and believe there is an issue on your bill, you should call your utility to get some more clarity.
To finish on a positive note: although it’s never nice to receive a big bill, Summer is just around the corner and all of your solar credits are ahead of you 🙂