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California solar system companies and owners fear for the industry

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (CBS, KYMA/KECY) - State regulators have dramatically cut what power companies will pay owners of solar systems. A longtime solar business owner and a homeowner shared their opinions to get a picture of what the industry could look like in the coming years.

Having been an entrepreneur for over 20 years, it's the thing that keeps you up most at night. It's the question, 'Do I have to lay somebody off?'" said Randy Zechman, CEO and Founder of Clean Solar.

Zechman hopes to be a solar survivor, and believes he will. However, he still fears for the future of his industry.

"Each individual company is banking on the fact that they're going to be the survivor," Zechman added.

Beyond busy

Zechman founded Clean Solar 16 years ago, and currently employs 60 people. Right now, his installers are beyond busy, installing solar panels and batteries for homeowners, rushing to meet an April 15 deadline.

State regulators have changed how and how much utilities, like PG&E, will pay for excess solar power sold back to the grid.

"It's much less cost effective for the homeowner. That's why we're doing the project now. And fortunately, Clean Solar was able to meet the deadline," said Dennis, a homeowner.

Previously, homeowners with solar panel like Dennis got a double benefit. Their electricity bills were lower because they used less of the utility's power, and they got a credit for excess power. They sold back to the grid.

Approved before the deadline

Zechman says he's got six to eight months of work on projects and applications approved before the deadline, and installed after it. But after that, he fears the industry is going to go right off a cliff.

"Today, it's about a five year payback and then free energy after that. And in the near future, that's going to be a ten to 12 payback," Zechman expressed.

The solar industry is encouraging people to install both panels and batteries, and say that should give homeowners greater independence from the grid as the industry, overall, braces for regulatory changes they fear could short-circuit their business.

"There's a lot of anxiety around making sure 60 people have a job the next day," Zechman said.

Article Topic Follows: California News

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