Solar Stocks Clobber Tech Sector in Friday Trading

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As the noon hour began Friday, real estate sector stocks were taking a beating, down 3.6% for the first half of the day’s trading session. Every stock sector traded lower at noon.

The tech sector, trading down by about 1.6%, is interesting because most of the damage was being caused by a sharp drop in the top solar industry stocks.

A final proposed decision on net metering payments in the state of California is the immediate culprit. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Friday morning released a revised and “improved” version of its net billing rules that cuts the amount the state’s utilities have to pay to owners of home solar systems who return electricity to the grid, a practice known as net metering.

The proposed decision by an industry group called the California Solar+Storage Association (CALSSA) will cut the value of solar-generated electricity returned to the grid by 75%.

CALSSA emphasizes the ultimate effect of the decision:

The final proposed decision also does not do enough to advance energy storage as it elongates the payback periods for these combined systems beyond what they are today. Today, California is installing roughly 30,000 batteries compared to 200,000 solar systems. With high costs, supply chain constraints, inflation and permitting and interconnection delays and challenges, it will take years before the storage market can match the solar market.

The result, according to the group, “is an expected cliff in the growth of new solar installations and the expansion of battery storage capacity.”

SPI Energy Co. Ltd. (NASDAQ: SPI), a supplier of photovoltaic (PV) and EV construction services, is being hit hardest. Shares traded down more than 6% in the noon hour Friday.

Solar systems installer Sunrun Inc. (NASDAQ: RUN) traded down 5.8%, while solar module maker SunPower Corp. (NASDAQ: SPWR) and solar power generation firm Sunnova Energy International inc. (NYSE: NOVA) traded down about 5%.

The short version of the story is that lower net metering rates mean it will take homeowners longer to amortize their investments in rooftop solar and battery storage. That likely will cause a decline in demand for the solar PV panels and other gear that comprise a home solar system.

The ruling goes into effect in April of next year and is expected to have a negative effect on the residential solar market in the second half of the year.

CALSSA claims that about 1.5 million consumers use net metering and that the state’s distributed solar energy systems have added 13 gigawatts to California’s solar capacity, roughly equal to the capacity of six nuclear energy plants the size of the Diablo Canyon plant.

The state’s utilities are to blame, according to CALSSA:

Big utilities want to change the rules in their favor in order to eliminate a growing competitor, keep consumers stuck in utility monopolies, and protect their profits. Utilities claim solar makes the energy bills of non-solar customers more expensive. But in reality, utility profits, infrastructure investment, transmission lines, and paying for their bad planning and the fires they cause are what drive energy rates up.

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