Clean Power

Published on April 18th, 2014 | by Guest Contributor


Top 5 Policy Tricks Against Solar

April 18th, 2014 by  

Originally published on SolarWakeup.
By Yann Brandt 


After incredible victories by solar policy groups, the anti-solar world lead by the likes of ALEC and investor owned utilities is coming out with a new bag of tricks. We have already seen the work come out in drafts of bills and those filed by legislators doing the work of the crowd going against solar. Most local solar companies engage in some level of statewide policy advocacy and as such needs to be up to speed on the tactics that may be happening in other States.

Solar policies are written to catch up to the market that has been carved out by large corporations that don’t want any competition or consumer choice in the market. The ability to put solar on your house or business should be an option for everyone, regardless of the State you live in. The transparency in the tactics is becoming clearer since solar now has policy shops that can help the strong grassroots support for our industry. “Sunshine is the best disinfectant;” as we present the top 5 policy tricks being used against solar:

5. Kill solar legislation in committee; it’s just too popular with the people

Solar polls very well with the general public and the grassroots supports amongst solar is very strong. Generally speaking, politicians do not like to vote against a bill that polls favorably and therefore do everything they can to avoid voting for it. There are several tactics for this, one is to stop the process in committee before making other elected officials vote on it. Most of the time, the chair of a referred committee (where a bill has to go before coming to a full vote on the floor) can simply refuse to hear the bill.

Refusing to hear a filed bill allows the leadership of the legislature to stop a piece of legislation without creating a voting record for politicians that want to be shielded from having to vote no on a bill the constituents want.

4. Too much solar is a cost shift from the rich to the poor

Anti-solar groups often create messaging fronts that claim to speak for interest groups. Often taking advantage of groups that seek to use solar for their own energy production, the messaging centers around the so-called ‘cost shift’. Legislators will be well schooled on the talking points which include key terms such as: hurting the poor and fixed income communities and shifting the cost from rich homeowners to the rest of the community.

The idea is that if 1 thousand homes add solar, they are no longer using the grid for electricity and the infrastructure cost has to be paid for by non-solar users. Let us look at it another way. What if those 1 thousand homes chose to stop watching television? What if the family decided to read books instead and therefore use less electricity? Should a family that decides to use less grid electricity be punished for making a personal choice? Would it still be a cost shift?

Consumers choose to add solar to their homes and buildings for many reasons including saving money and locking in the ever rising cost of electricity. That choice is not a cost shift; it is about the market operating effectively.

3. The utilities love solar; we have no problem with it and welcome it

The era of utilities being openly anti-solar is mostly over but that is only half the story. In most States, utilities are showing their solar farms and solar goals in shareholder paid for advertisements. Some utilities are preparing and issuing very large solar RFPs. The issuance of RFPs obviously buys some goodwill from the local solar companies seeking to win some of the utility’s business. We have also seen community solar farms and other local solar programs meant to show the solar interest by the companies.

There is a common thread behind each of these ideas, filings or RFPs. The utility owns the solar asset, ventures to include it in ratebase and make a guaranteed return on the investment. In each case, distributed or central generation, the goal is to own the solar electricity and provide no hedging or self-generation incentive to consumers.

2. Get rid of net metering, for something that’s better (Pinky Promise?)

If you can’t kill it, then change it by offering something better. Sounds too good to be true, mostly because it happens to be anything but the truth. Net metering creates the ability for consumers to generate their own electricity in a fair agreement with the grid operator. Net metering has shown to be so fair that it creates financial upside for the grid and therefore non-solar homes. Net metering also creates choice, the choice to self-generate, the choice for sustainable solar electricity; and that choice is central to what the anti-solar groups are trying to destroy.

Any shift away from consumer choice is a bad idea, in one case (MN) the shift from net metering to value of solar tariff sounds good at first glance. The promise to make solar more attractive then retail rates (at first) by creating a new calculation is caveated with a simple premise. The consumer has to give all of the generated electricity to the utility for a credit on their bill, they don’t actually reduce their own consumption. Secondly, the value of solar tariff is only sure to be above retail for 3 years and the utility gets all of the long term upside on the value of solar. Creating illusions of a viable market just to get rid of net metering is not good for consumers or solar companies and the latest in the tricks being used.

1. Allow solar leasing…but only if provided by the investor owned utility

If you can’t beat them, join them. That’s the latest coming from our friends in Washington State and South Carolina. Solar leasing expands on the basic premise of consumers adding solar to their homes. Some owners choose to buy, some choose to lease just like the automobile industry. Leasing has grown the solar industry exponentially by providing solar at no upfront cost, without which the industry would be far smaller than it is today. Most importantly, leasing does not eliminate the ability of homeowners to own their system, it actually makes sure that owning is as easy as it can get.

Now that solar leasing has shown that it can dramatically increase the efficiency of a market, anti-solar forces need to shut it down or out in this case. The legislative fix being proposed is that a utility should be the only provider of solar leasing in the market, not 3rdparties. Imagine your local municipality saying that you can only get a mortgage from a single bank, no competition and no requirements to be the best. It’s terrible for the consumer and terrible for solar contractors, remember that the only motive is to install as little solar as possible.

These are the top 5 policy tricks in play today, there are more and they will keep adapting. Solar won’t let down and as a group we can make sure that we continue to grow and fight back the attempts to diminish our industry’s gains. Don’t let false hope drive your legislative support; they are just tricks after all.

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  • JamesWimberley

    Fully agree on 3 and 1. These are the easiest cases to make, as the monopoly grab by utilities is so transparent.
    5: Death in committees. This has also worked in favour of solar recently. The legislative status quo is mostly pro-solar so obstacles to new laws mainly work in its favour.
    4: There is a small distributional impact from rooftop solar when there isn’t a grid access fee already – not from the poor to the rich, but from the poor to the middle class. Solar advocates should recognize this, but demand real numbers (it’s probably not a large effect). They should also support programmes designed to make solar available to renters (like community solar) and address energy poverty directly. A purely libertarian price-of-progress position is callous.
    2: VOST. We’ve had this argument before on this site. The merits of a VOST depend on the details. Well-designed, it’s as good for homeowners as net metering and offers the possibility of a stable long-term truce with the utilities (Austin). It can also be a front for evisceration of solar by them (Arizona proposal).

    • mds

      Good comments!
      Proposed solution to 4 and 2 (they are inter-related problems):
      A. Separate power generation and power transmission on the grid. This way you are more likely to get a fair valuation of the value of generation from the transmission utility companies. (They won’t be trying to pay for those central generation plants that have become stranded assets …as you’re seeing in Australia.)
      B. There should be a monthly grid maintenance charge if you are connected regardless of how much electricity you use. It is no longer going to work to pay for grid maintenance as a percentage of grid power used, when some are using so much less. Grid maintenance really has nothing to do with how many electrons flow anyway, that doesn’t wear the wires out. Grid wear and tear has much more to do with aging and the elements/weather anyway. It should be a fixed monthly cost.
      C. Generators should be reimbursed/paid at a fair wholesale rate, based on power cost at that time of day. That include Distributed Solar Generators, home and business.
      D. Power Users should be billed at a fair retail rate. This rate should pay the generator’s wholesale rate, with a reasonable profit determined by free market competition, and leave some fair profit for the transmission companies doing the power purchasing and distribution.
      It is not complicated. It is political.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I think you’ve presented a workable solution.

        If people who rarely use the grid (only deep backup) are large in number and pull power in large amounts which require expensive generation to come on line they might have to pay something extra over what a “normal” – always connected user might pay per kWh during those same hours.

        Little tweaks such as that might be needed, but separating generation/power brokering and distribution makes incredible sense.

      • Mahdi

        ad B. – It would be wise to pay for grid maintenance which would be based on possible peak kW usage (determined by main circuit breakers) rather than by kWh. The grid is designed around those peak values.

    • Calamity_Jean

      What does VOST mean in this context? I’ve never seen that abbreviation before.

  • Rebecca Toews

    ILSR responds to Value of Solar concerns:

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