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Why Are Utilities Still Trying to Block Your Access to Solar?

Net energy metering, or net-metering, is the policy that lets rooftop solar customers sell their excess energy back to the power grid during the day, typically at retail rates or credits. Later in the evening as the sun goes down they rely on the grid for their energy, simply buying back their banked credits or in most cases, credits plus more energy.

This policy has been proven to be a cornerstone of the solar industry, simply because it is so simple to understand, mirroring the days of rollover minutes on mobile phone rate plans.

Meanwhile, study after study reveals that customers who net-meter their solar lower the costs for all consumers. More than 30 studies have now been conducted, nearly all of them indicating that solar customers help to lower the grid costs to all customers. The latest study comes out of Michigan where the legislature commissioned a study to help support utility regulators design new rates for electricity customers.

While net metering customers receive credits that reduce or eliminate their monthly utility bills, solar distributed generation (DG) provides measurable benefits to the power system that should be considered when evaluating the true impact of solar DG and net metering on all ratepayers.

If it’s so simple, and it benefits consumers, why are utilities and their front groups constantly trying to attack it?

Good question. The answer, reasons…

A recent article in the New York Times (read it here) does a good job at providing some examples. The argument most commonly used is, if consumers who go solar, use less energy, the ones left using more energy will be stuck paying for all the infrastructure. However, a recent VOX article by David Roberts clearly defines the problem utilities have with solar and solar customers in 250 words or less (read it here).

Because for some reason, despite more customers going solar, and advanced grid technologies emerging faster than ever utilities keep building more, bigger, fossil fuel power plants.

What do these attacks on solar look like?

In Florida, a campaign run by environmental advocates and conservatives was beaten into submission by the state's four largest investor-owned utilities. The solar campaign's goal was to change a law that has prevented churches, non-profits, governments, and schools from going solar. It would have also likely benefited other large energy consumers like Wal-Mart or Florida Power & Light’s largest customer grocery chain Publix. Utilities did not like that.

Instead, Utilities ran their own ballot campaign, paying petition gatherers double or triple to push the utility petition over of the pro-solar campaign. They spent over $21 million dollars, which ultimately came from their own customer's bill payments. A quick google search will prove how vicious the utility campaign was. While neither ballot campaign was successful at being signed into law that $21 million will keep solar off large rooftops and schools for another few years.

While Florida’s utilities were busy fighting with environmental groups, conservatives, and their own customers, Florida legislators Jeff Brandes and Ray Rodrigues were working with the industry and Republicans on successful solar legislation to reduce taxes on businesses who go solar and protect consumers from ambiguous or potentially deceptive contracts.

In other states, Hawaii for example, during a negotiation of a takeover of their largest HECO utility by NextEra Energy (FPL’s parent company), aggressively ended their net metering program. HECO additionally stalled the interconnection pre-approval applications of over 3,000 solar customers. While the bid for the utility take over by the Florida behemoth ultimately failed, the solar market in Hawaii is yet to fully recover. The state is making inroads by providing clearer signals for battery storage incentives.

In March of 2017, the Texas utility, Oncor, proposed an increase in minimum charges for solar customers. It just so happens that the request to increase customer minimum charges lined up with a bid from NextEra Energy who was attempting to take over the failing utility. A takeover that was ultimately rejected by the state’s regulators.

See a pattern emerging?

NextEra Energy tries to buy your utility company --> Solar rates become unfavorable --> Nextera fails at buying your utility --> Policymakers are left to put the broken Humpty Dumpty solar market and jobs back together again.

Just imagine what could happen if your utility was owned by NextEra already... People in Florida often wonder why they don't see solar on every rooftop. Get it now?

What can you do to fight back?

Go solar (obviously), at the least have a full analysis done on your home to see if it’s feasible. If you're not interested in going solar, or can't because of your roof, or homeownership reasons there are other ways to participate. Remember, when others go solar, it benefits you! Sign up for the email lists for groups like Vote Solar, the Sierra Club, and NRDC. These grass roots driven organizations have been leading the fight against the attacks on the solar industry for years and they rely on your support, not just monetarily, but individually through social sharing and reaching out to state policy makers.


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