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Published on April 2nd, 2014 | by Chip Martin

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Now We Love Solar So Much We Want To Smother It

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April 2nd, 2014 by  

We all know those parents, hovering just out of sight, keeping an eye on every move their children make, offering unsolicited advice and generally trying to keep control of everything — all in the name of “love.”

The utilities have studied that behavior and decided to go all-in with it, with a much more sinister goal: to kill solar in its crib.

I understand why utilities need a new strategy. Utilities have been skunked — 0-9 — in their quest to try to kill solar through attacking net metering. That’s verging on CalTech men’s basketball bad (that poor team was 0-310 between 1985 and 2010).

Failure at such staggering levels usually concludes with firing the coach, but utilities aren’t going to fire themselves. So, utilities are trying something new: utilities now love rooftop solar… as long as they can rig the contest by keeping competitors from even getting in the game.

Utilities in at least two states are honing these tactics:

  • In Washington, the utilities lobbied for HB 2176, a bill that contains the following passage: “If an electric utility offers a leased-energy program, no other entity may offer leases to the utility’s customers.”

To this, I must scream: “What ever happened to the free market?”

Duke is supporting complicated legislation that boils down to the utility supporting solar, but only if it can use its monopoly power to corner the market. Yeah, consumers, you can have your solar, but only when we are the ones who own it and sell it to you. No freedom-of-energy-choice for you!

These tactics, which cut the solar industry off at the roots and violate the most basic free-market values, are creating solar battles across the country. Thankfully, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) opposes such tactics with full throats.

In 2012, SEIA merged with The Solar Alliance, a group of several dozen manufacturers founded to help those manufacturers work on state-based solar issues. Carrie Cullen Hitt, leader of the Alliance, became SEIA’s vice president of state affairs. With the merger, the two organizations’ policy pillars also united under the SEIA name. The following is one of the relevant pillars from a Solar Alliance policy brief (full brief attached):

The [Retail Distributed Generation] market segment is fully competitive and direct utility involvement should be limited. Utilities may directly support customer PV installations through rebates, performance-based incentives (PBIs), PPAs or loans…policymakers should limit the total percentage of utility-owned assets….

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Under the guise of supporting solar, the utilities are trying to undermine it. SEIA should use its own words to stop the utilities’ new seek-and-destroy tactics.

Solar Alliance: Principles Of Utility Ownership of PV Assets

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About the Author

Chip Martin is an award-winning writer, scholarship-winning saxophone player and long-time solar advocate. As the industry grew exponentially, Martin decided to enter the fray on behalf of the solar industry. You can read him at CleanTechnica, Red, Green and Blue and Solar Wakeup, as he does his best to spread the solar gospel.



  • nullbull

    The utilities own and operate the grid. THAT service is essential, has a future, and that is what they should pursue strategically, IMO. Generation also has a future, but one with considerably more risk – exposure to ever more compelling distributed generation solutions for consumers, industrial users investing in radical production, reclamation, and efficiency improvements, myriad generation options with advantages that change regionally – wind, gas, solar, coal, nuclear, hydro. Not to mention the radical efficiency gains that can be made at existing facilities. Look at wind’s numbers last year – power generation was considerably faster than new installations, meaning they’re squeezing more and more power out of existing facilities.

    That’s a lot of unknowns.

    Frankly, the entire electricity generation industry was rather stagnant and complacent for decades. Natural gas, coal, nuclear. Other stuff maybe. You plop a big ‘ol plant somewhere and connect to the grid. End of story. It’s hard to feel any compassion for them. They demonstrated that a shock to the system was the only thing that would dislodge their complacency. They are simply waking up to all the innovation that they ignored or didn’t credit with being “real” for decades. Oops. Their bad. Their cost. Adapt or die.

    OR – cheat. Change the law so you live in a protected bubble.

  • Jim Seko

    Utilities are trying to protect consumers in the same way auto dealers are trying to protect consumers from direct auto sales.

  • JamesWimberley

    A pity the SEIA and the Solar Alliance merged under the name of the former not the latter. Acronyms are good for concealment (cf. ALEC), not publicity. We all know what Greenpeace and the Sierra Club are for.

  • Matt

    Would be all for the SC bill if we add a few words.
    “If an electric utility offers a leased-energy program, no other entity may offer leases to the utility’s customers.”
    As long as the utility lease rate is at least 50% less than available in any state in or connected to the utilities service area.

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