Depending on where you live, you may or may not be aware of the work solar energy supporters have had to do lately to preserve their access to affordable solar energy in their states. In many states, the issue is net metering, which gives solar customers a credit for energy they send to the grid. This energy is used to serve nearby customers during peak energy load times.
As the number of solar customers has grown, utilities have begun to argue that net metering means that solar customers aren’t paying their share of the costs of maintaining and updating the power grid, shifting those costs to non-solar customers. The solar industry, on the other hand, argues that the boost from solar customers helps utilities meet peak demand, reduces the need for costly transmission lines and cuts air pollution from power plants.
Last year, a heated fight between Arizona’s solar industry and its main electric utility ended in a compromise: New solar customers will now pay a monthly fee of about $5, far less than the $40 to $50 the utility was pushing for. Arizona is just the beginning; in the more than 40 states that have net metering policies in place, almost all of them are under scrutiny, according to The New York Times.
It turns out these attacks on solar are the work of a nonprofit group of corporations, conservative activists, and lawmakers known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has been called a “stealth business lobbyist” by The New York Times. Documents obtained by The Guardian in December revealed the group’s strategy to block clean energy development by promoting “legislation with goals ranging from penalizing individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is Barack Obama’s main channel for climate action.”
After what was seen as a defeat for ALEC in Arizona, the battle has moved to Colorado, where Xcel Energy, the local utility company, is trying to convince the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to limit net metering for its customers.
The bottom line is that voters need to make their voices heard. Arizonians did a good job of mobilizing and containing the efforts by the utility there. If you’re a current solar customer — or interested in becoming one in the future — we encourage you to watch these issues in your state and contact your representatives and show your support for clean energy policies. If we want to keep moving forward to a clean energy future, we need less barriers, not more, for new customers.