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Calif. commission to decide whether to cut a key incentive for rooftop solar

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The commission that regulates California's utilities decides today whether to cut a key incentive for rooftop solar. California's considered the bellwether for the nation's energy policy, and some environmentalists worry that this decision could make it harder to transition away from fossil fuels. Here's NPR's Julia Simon.

JULIA SIMON, BYLINE: California decided decades ago that to get more solar energy, they needed to pay people for their solar power. If you end up with more solar power than you can use, you can sell that back to the grid. With the current pricing plan, the utility pays you for the power basically the same amount that you pay it. One of the people benefiting from this setup is music teacher Carolyn McDaniels in San Francisco.

CAROLYN MCDANIELS: How did it change my bill? Oh, my God. When you get a bill that says no payment necessary, that's how it changed my bill.

SIMON: The vote by the California Utilities Commission comes down to how much new solar customers will get in the future. Today, commissioners could cut those incentive payments.

BERNADETTE DEL CHIARO: It is a cliff. It's what you would do if you wanted to hurt something. You would slash it like that.

SIMON: Bernadette Del Chiaro runs the California Solar & Storage Association. She says the proposal immediately reduces average payments around 75%. She worries the incentive cut will mean people won't think solar panels are worth the investment. But Matt Baker of the California Public Advocates Office supports the proposal and says the current incentive structure is now out of place. He says it played its part to get California to around 1.5 million homes with solar.

MATT BAKER: We believe it worked. It worked really, really well.

SIMON: He says the new pricing mechanism will incentivize people to get big storage batteries along with solar, what he says California's grid needs. But Del Chiaro says it will be hard to incentivize batteries if you're making solar more expensive. Ultimately, she thinks this incentive cut will threaten the growth of the largest solar market in America.

DEL CHIARO: We're supposed to set the pace and set the example.

SIMON: She says other states are watching California's vote today.

Julia Simon, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julia Simon