Southern California property manager Mike Shaar of SIG Property Management in Glendale is familiar with utility bills. He manages over 150 buildings and each has as many meters as there are units – sometimes more. So when weighing the advantages and disadvantages of solar power, Shaar ran into problems when making a decision.
“How do I decide how much solar to put on each unit? Each tenant has different power consumption requirements,” he said. “The worst outcome would be to commit to too much on one and too little on another. Multiply that by a lot of units, and solar becomes a big gamble.”
So Shaar waited a year or two until the City of Glendale approved a new interconnection agreement; it allows him to put one solar system on the roof of a multi-unit building, and decide annually what percentage its production he allocates to each unit in the building. It takes a major concern away. So, for his first solar building, Shaar committed to a solar system a little smaller than the cumulative usage of all the meters. The solar electricity the connected meter received on a monthly basis could be distributed retroactively by the utility billing department to the other meters in whatever allocation Shaar requested.
It took a while for the city and the utility to work out the details on this plan, but it was finally done earlier this year, and Shaar was first in line to take advantage of the decision. Phillipe Hartley of Clean Financing was the consultant who helped Shaar and a few other Glendale business owners push for aggregated metering. The California Energy Commission created the goal for all utilities in the state to have such an option, and GWP recognized it had to comply. When Shaar pulled a permit to install solar on his own office building, the new interconnection agreement gave him the options to list all the other meters he will want the power distributed to.
“Our headquarters are a good place for us to start, because the other units in the building may fluctuate in terms of their usage in the next few years,” he said.
Like many small municipal utilities, GWP will actually perform these billing adjustments manually for a while, “old school” style since aggregated metering is beyond its current software capabilities. Nonetheless, in May Shaar flipped the switch on the brand new solar system featuring new, two-sided panels that generate power from the bounce light on the roof as well as direct sunlight.
“I have a new rate structure and new technology as well; but it’s taken a while and I’m looking forward to being an electric producer finally. It was worth the wait,” he said.
Not too far from SIG Properties, another well-known local business owner, Chris Waldheim of J’s Maintenance, greeted news of the new rate plan with some irony. Waldheim invested in solar four years ago and got a large enough system to feed all of his power requirements. But when it came time to connect, the city would only allow him to connect to one meter. For years, J’s Maintenance has been producing excess solar power that got distributed into the neighborhood, but the business received no credit for it. Essentially, the business has been gifting the solar electricity to the utility, which in turn was billing its customers for it. Now, Waldheim can finally apply the excess energy to his other meters, and see the impact on his bill that he was hoping for from the beginning.
“Better late than never, I guess,” said Waldheim.
Fortunately for J’s Maintenance solar panels have decades of active energy production, certainly long enough for the company to get plenty of benefit from aggregated metering.