According to recent Center for American Progress (CAP) studies, middle-class America is buying into the solar market. This is great news — rooftop solar isn’t just for mansions and millionaires anymore; it is accessible to suburban households across the country. How will the power industry and legislators react to this power being in the hands of the people?
Last year, CAP found that in Arizona, California, and New Jersey – the three largest solar markets in the United States – the majority of solar panels being installed are in areas with median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000. And this year, CAP found that emerging solar markets in Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York are following similar patterns. More than 80% of installations in New York and nearly 70% of installations in Massachusetts occur in areas with incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000. Interestingly, just 45% of Maryland’s rooftop solar installations occurred in middle-class neighborhoods — a lower percentage than New York and Massachusetts, but still a significant percentage.
While the studies didn’t look at the reason behind the trend, it can be assumed that it has to do with the cost benefits of going solar. Net metering and other solar policies allow households to save money while doing something good for the environment. And saving $600 or even thousands of dollars in electricity costs a year means a lot to middle-class families.
But utilities and fossil fuel companies don’t want to give up their power, so to speak, to the people. They argue that net metering unfairly advantages people who produce their own electricity through solar. They don’t pay to maintain transmission lines, substations, and computer systems that make up the grid, although they rely on them for backup.
This “unfairness” has prompted the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — a conservative organization funded by big oil — to draft model legislation targeted to undercut net metering benefits, as well as states’ renewable energy standards. ALEC hasn’t had much success yet, but many are looking at Ohio right now and the possible decision by the state House to gut Ohio’s renewable energy standards in response to ALEC’s lobbying.
The power industry’s actions only serve to highlight how powerful solar is becoming in the United States. An energy revolution has begun that threatens the wealthy, old establishments. And with more and more families installing rooftop systems, legislators may hopefully become less interested in turning their back on the voting public and gutting renewable energy benefits.
As Victor Hugo said, “All the forces in the world are not as powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
Image Credit: Rooftop solar installer via Shutterstock