Monopoly electric utilities are finally taking solar power seriously.
That’s good news when it means that these energy giants are using their huge access to financing and other resources to build their own solar arrays. In a country that desperately needs clean energy, any solar is good solar.
But when utilities take solar so seriously that they try to stop homeowners from putting solar panels on their own roof, well then, Houston, we have a problem.
Attacking distributed solar is all about protecting utility profits by keeping solar companies from stealing the utilities’ customers with home PV. So, utilities use their massive influence with energy regulators, legislatures and governors to get states to put in laws to make solar power more expensive.
And despite big failures in trying to get government to discriminate against solar in recent years in Nevada, Florida and other states, utilities just won’t learn. They keep on trying to get state governments to cut back on incentives for distributed solar such as net metering and to increase costs for solar homeowners through higher minimum bill charges.
Too Busy Selling PV to Care about Politics
If you work for a solar company, you may not have time to follow politics much. And you may be so turned off by what happens in Washington that you just don’t bother.
But this may be a good time to change that. You already know that public policy is absolutely essential to sell solar panels. A fair market for solar is necessary for solar businesses to survive and thrive.
If you’re in a weak market for solar, you can probably blame bad public policy rather than a lack of sunshine. By contrast, if you’re a strong solar market like California or New York, you know that public policy to make solar cheaper is a big part of what made that state into a good market.
To grasp the importance of public policy for the solar industry, just take the example of Florida.
If sunshine were enough, then Florida would be a top state for installed solar. But even though the Sunshine State has improved in recent years, Florida still ranks a sad #12 for the cumulative amount of solar generating capacity installed, behind such un-sunny states as New Jersey (#5) and Massachusetts (#6).
Why? It’s an understatement to say that Florida sure doesn’t lack sunshine. What it does lack is a fair market for solar, a result of anti-solar public policy. As the Solar Energy Industries Association explains,
Florida, “the sunshine state,” ranks third in the nation for rooftop solar potential, but all the way down at 12th for cumulative solar capacity installed. Florida’s solar policies lag behind many other states in the nation: it has no renewable portfolio standard and does not allow power purchase agreements, two policies that have driven investments in solar in other states.
Utilities like it when state laws like those in Florida make home solar more expensive. That’s because utilities want to drive solar installers out of business. Then, utilities can keep their customers. And if those customers demand solar, well, then fine — the utilities can provide it themselves through the grid from the big solar farms that those same utilities own.
And solar installers? They’ll be lucky if they can pick up a few crumbs that utilities drop under the table, so to speak..
California: the Next Battlefield between Utilities and Solar?
In the last year, utility attacks on solar have focused mostly on some of the country’s least developed solar markets, such as Maine and Kentucky. But experts predict that utilities may be ready to soon launch attacks on solar in big markets including Virginia and Massachusetts.
And believe it or not, activists are warning that utilities are about to make another push against solar in the nation’s leading solar market and most solar-friendly state, California, as Solar CitiSuns explains:
In recent years the utilities spent millions of ratepayer dollars successfully lobbying state officials to impose new fees on solar owners, weaken net metering, and kill off new incentives for storing our solar energy at home.
We expect more of the same soon, plus a new attempt to grab exclusive monopoly control over all solar and storage in California. Here is the actual language of proposal and fact sheet by some of our allies.
My new book The Solar Patriot exposes the utility plot to undermine solar policy nationwide, going in depth into the two big examples I mentioned above, Nevada and Florida. In both those states, after initial victories to push anti-solar laws, utilities lost.
They only reason utilities were pushed back in those states was because pro-solar forces — solar homeowners along with environmentalists, consumer groups and even the local Tea Party — fought back.
So, even if you’re in a top market for solar like California, you can’t take a fair marketplace for granted. As long as utilities are able to use government to protect their business, they won’t hesitate to try to pass laws to put solar companies at a disadvantage.
Learn how pro-solar forces won in Nevada and Florida and also how you can prepare for the battle with utilities that may be coming to your state. Buy The Solar Patriot now from Amazon
Or, you can download free chapters at the book’s website. Every chapter — I’m not kidding. As a service to solar advocates around the country, I’ve now posted every chapter of the book online for free.
Don’t be caught unprepared for the next utility attack on your business. Get smart and get ready now.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group