The first battle between utilities and the solar industry commenced last year when utilities attacked the commercial net metering of solar energy in California, Louisiana, Idaho, and Arizona.
The solar industry, with its backup of strong support from the public, has claimed victory for all the skirmishes that the utilities initiated in 2013, with the situation in Arizona Edconsidered as particularly difficult to win. Funding an anti-solar campaign worth multimillions of dollars, APS denied supporting bogus grassroots organisations as well as advertisements that attacked their very own customers. Edison Electric Institute or EEI went on the offensive with radio and TV advertisements that attacked customers of rooftop solar panels.
Instead of gaining sympathisers, the dirty tactics employed by both APS and EEI backfired and only managed to boost the solar industry’s continuously increasing popularity and strengthened public support for independent commercial solar power advocacy.
Net Metering: The Shock of Their Lives
Net metering enables owners of rooftop solar panels to utilise the solar energy that their panels generate to receive credit for full retail for any excess power which is sent back to the national grid. In turn, utilities sell this energy to neighbouring businesses and residences.
Customers of net metering comprise 0.03% of the customer base of three utilities that owned by investors. Only 201 are currently utilising their net metering benefits – via solar panels or wind turbines — out of 900,000 commercial and residential customers.
The tiny percentage that makes up the solar market, major utilities assumed, albeit wrongly, that elimination of commercial net metering would not meet any resistance since the figure is too minuscule. They got the shock of their lives when over 550 consumers communicated with their senator to reiterate the importance of net metering to them. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) threw in their towel towards the end of 2013 against net metering.
A Compromise Bill is Better than Nothing
During the first months of this year, solar industry advocates and supporters managed to defeat ALEC-backed anti-net metering bills in the states of Washington and Utah. Most recently, ALEC was landed yet another crushing blow when Kansas legislators passed a bill that protects net metering.
Still, a compromise bill is better than nothing. The bill’s provisions include size reductions in solar installations which can be qualified for net metering. Residential installations in Kansas can be up to 25 kilowatts and still be qualified for net metering. Said bill, however, reduces that figure to only 15 kilowatts. While consumers who avail of net metering may now earn full retail prices for their excess energy monthly, said bill is reducing those prices to a hundred per cent of avoided costs incurred by the utility.
Far From Over
Nevertheless, the Kansas victory has been bitter-sweet for the solar industry because of the compromises in said bill which is awaiting the signature of the Kansas governor. The solar industry has proven that state leaders recognise the crucial role of consumers when it comes to decision-making on legislative matters which directly impact them.
The right to use commercial solar power is one of these legislative matters. Solar industry advocates and supporters continue to fight for their rights to energy choice while in similar fashion the ALEC does the same alongside major utilities. From the looks of it, this war between the 21st century’s David and Goliath is far from over. Not by a long shot.