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Published on August 4th, 2012 | by Andrew

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Campaign Launched to Counter Utilities’ Efforts to Derail California’s Net Metering Program



 

Well-entrenched businesses will fight tooth and nail to maintain their market dominance and keep doing business in the same, well-entrenched ways — push from new technology, public interest groups, consumers, and government policies and regulations notwithstanding. This is especially true in economic sectors where a small number of vendors have come to dominate the supply of goods or services, and that’s come to be the case across the economy on a never-before-seen scale over the past two or so decades as the “globalization” wave has swept across the world.

Achieving economies of scale is one thing, allowing businesses to become “Too Big to Fail” is quite another, as has repeatedly been demonstrated by successive banking system crises and business scandals. The vast majority of Americans have been ill-served by government policies of the past two decades that have greatly expanded the freedom of banks and multinational businesses to move money and assets across borders while allowing them to evade taxes, regulation, and accountability here at home.

All of the above is in play in the ongoing political, business, and public debate regarding US energy and climate change policy — more specifically, efforts to wean the US economy and society off of fossil fuels by building a new, more distributed, and much less polluting infrastructure based primarily on clean, renewable energy resources.
 

 

Business and Politics as Usual

Large corporations have effectively captured the US democratic process — often writing the nation’s laws for Congress, as well as those of states and municipalities — and taking control of local elections courtesy of Citizens United, which allows corporations and special interests to mask their identities and pour as much money as they deem necessary to assure that candidates with views contrary to their own don’t get elected.

Large corporations and special interests have become adept, and spend billions, on behind-the-scenes political lobbying. When that isn’t enough, they have also become proficient at running public relations and media campaigns that sow public disinformation, misinformation, and confusion over key issues.

Seeking to preserve their public image, well-entrenched corporations and special interest groups, when opposed by well-funded opposition and/or public opinion, will coincidentally yield some ground. All the while, they’ll continue working hard and spending big in private and publicly to resist changes they perceive as threatening to their commercial interests and well-entrenched ways of doing business.

Smart grids — for electricity, gas, water, and waste management — have become a central aspect of the US’ expanding clean energy infrastructure. While the advent of smart grid and renewable energy technology is opening up new opportunities for US utilities, it also poses significant challenges and threats.

Solar Power, Smart Grids and Net Metering

Here in the US, California has led the way when it comes to fostering renewable energy growth. It’s also a center for smart grid technology. With much of the US in the midst of unusually high heat and record-setting drought, those investments and installations are now paying off in dramatic fashion.

“California’s pro-solar energy policies enacted over the past decade are helping the state avoid brownouts. More solar power, particularly during peak periods, is being put back onto the state’s power grid, thanks to ‘net metering,’” the California-based Coalition for Solar Rights (CSR) points out.

Net metering is a key aspect of smart grid systems — one that enables electric utility customers with solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to feed electricity back into the grid. Smart meters then start running in reverse, reducing their electricity bills.

California’s major electric utilities have connected more solar and renewable energy systems to their grids than utilities in any other state. They’re also rolling out smart meters that enable net metering to take place. Thing is, they’re also lobbying the state legislature and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to “derail California’s successful net metering program with unfair fees and restrictive caps on participation…this despite the fact that 86% of California voters think net metering should be more widely available,” CSR asserts.

“Solar sales are soaring this summer too, as homeowners take advantage of lower solar costs. Among low-income households (less than $50,000), sales are up by more than 364 percent,” CSR notes from a recent article in Forbes magazine.

The organization has launched a “Protect Net Metering” campaign that’s looking to derail the efforts of California’s largest utilities to derail the state’s net metering program.

“Like rollover minutes on your cell phone bill, net metering gives solar energy customers fair credit on their utility bills for valuable clean power they put back on the grid,” the Protect Net Metering website states. “It is one of the most important policy tools we have for empowering homes, businesses, schools and public agencies to go solar.”

The organization is looking to organize public opposition to utilities’ efforts to derail California’s net metering program. Those in agreement looking for a focused, targeted channel to express those views can learn more on its website.

Photo Credit: Sensus

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About the Author

I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.



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  • Anne

    “Smart meters then start running in reverse”

    I had to laugh out loud when I read that. I’m sorry, but the author should know the meters running in reverse are the dumbest, oldest, mechanical ones.

    It’s it more modern digital ones that often can’t measure production, only consumption.

  • Jim Rossi

    This is a long polemical article, completely one-sided, but not much of an analysis. I see no mention of the privacy and health risk questions about smart meters (reasonable or not, they are big concerns to many people); or the enormous load balancing issues (solar can be intermittent & is not easily stored right now) and freerider dilemma (who pays for the transmission grid if residents produce more energy than they consume?) that are major issues the utilities worry about in the net metering debate. 

    I’m sorry to say I really didn’t learn a single thing from this article. We need more than talking points to get the world using more and more renewable energy.

    • Ross

      Coming out of the blocks with privacy and health risks isn’t really putting your strongest argument first is it? 

      The intermittency one isn’t much better as considerably more solar is already being connected into grids successfully already.

      Freerider might be your best one but you’re a little  shy about providing details. Telcos make similar arguments about protecting the investment in their last mile. They fail to recognise that that network was often built at the expense of monopoly charging.

    • Anne

      In large part of the US, solar is a very, very welcome peak shaver, helping to offset high A/C consumption with generation at the point of use. This kinda defeats your ‘freerider’ argument.

      ‘Enormous load balancing issues’? You must elaborate on that one. Do you have any concrete examples?

      Solar increases and decreases in power gradually and predictably. There are quite accurate weather forecasts. So most utitlities have no issues with load balancing. Predictability is all that it takes and distributed solar is very predictable.

    • Bob_Wallace

      You don’t see health and privacy risks mentioned because there aren’t any.  Those problems exist only in the pseudo-reality of the tinfoil hat crowd.

      As for  your other concerns – load balancing is something that utilities do all the time.  It’s part of their job.  

      Utilities own the grid wires, they benefit from surplus solar fed back through their wires.  Solar coming from customers and paid back with cheap off-peak power allows utilities to avoid having to purchase very expensive peak power to meet demand spikes.

      • Mark

        very expensive peak power to meet demand spikes.

        I don’t agree with that..
        visit

        • Bob_Wallace

          You don’t? Are you aware what a modest amount of solar has done to smack down midday peaks in Germany?

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