Clouds on the Horizon for Solar

Net Metering Under Attack in the West. Will it come East?

In recent years California has been the innovator and early adapter  when it comes to progressive environmental efforts. What happens in California doesn’t stay there.  Most everything  green has tended to originate in the west and travel east.  If this is the case, this may spell disaster for those using solar energy as well as those in the solar industry field nationwide.

There are political battlelines being drawn over the future viability of solar.  Old guard utilities and right wing political groups are using  their deep pockets and political to bring solar power to a screeching halt. There are efforts in Texas, Arizona and yes even true blue  California by utilities to reduce or remove the retail market value applied to net metering. The utilities are efforting to role back legislation creating a 1 to 1 ratio of value for energy supplied by solar producers flowing back into the grid.

In San Antonio, Texas the utility CPS is working to replace net metering with what they are calling Value of Solar Tariff (VOST). In CPS’s San Antonio territory, that same solar kilowatt-hour with a sale retail market value of 12.8 cents will get you only about 5.6 cents from the utility as a purchase. CPS has put forward a plan for Austin to replace net metering with a different plan called “SunCredits,” which calculated the value of consumer-generated solar at about 5.6 cents.

 

After significant pushback from the solar industry in its territory, CPS Energy delayed its SunCredits program by a year in order to have a more detailed dialogue about how to accurately value distributed generation in its territory. This is a question that is being asked, and fought over, across many utility territories in the U.S., including major solar markets such as California and Arizona. These are but two of innumerable attacks on net energy metering policies (and Renewable Portfolio Standards) being waged across the U.S.

The attack in Arizona has become blatantly political and the argument is being framed around state loyalty, the old guard, taxpayers rights, and national politics. The campaign is receiving outside funding from right wing organizations. Playing off the states rights theme, Azsolarfacts.com boasts their running ad which ties Solyndra Obama Solar City and Sunrun into a group of billionaire outsiders carpet baggers swooping into Arizona to get rich off of the poor taxpayer money.

This political action group in particular, 60 plus Association, out of Virginia has clear ties to republican operatives and big money and has waged numerous campaigns for big business interests over the years. Though the only pattern in their campaigns has been supportive of big business and conservative messaging, their posture to be protectors of senior citizens. The senior community however is quite split on solar energy. They represent a majority of homeowners who have opted for solar.

The reason being on a fixed income, they are the most vulnerable to utility rate increases. The demographics were generally representative of potential solar buyers: 81% ages 45-64, 81% with some college degree, 74% making $100+K. The only concern was that — compared to the averages for Santa Clara County and for homeownership — the survey dramatically under weighted Asians and somewhat underweighted Latinos. (There is no reason to believe that race plays the same role as income or education in buying a $20K power system.)

The actual source of funding, due to arcane finance laws leaves the actual money source cloudy. There is some evidence to suggest that is the Koch Brother’s money who are behind this campaign.

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