If you’ve been following solar industry news, you’re familiar with reports of some in the industry cozying up to monopoly utilities while continuing to paint themselves as solar champions. They rationalize this apparent paradox by using the same messaging we see in happy-feel-good TV ads from the utilities themselves: “We’re working hard to make our energy grid more sustainable and more affordable.”
Of course, that’s a bald-faced lie. In reality, the utilities invest what amounts to pocket lint in renewable energy and simultaneously work to crush solar-friendly policies from California to South Carolina and stomp out the solar companies who threaten their bottom line. And instead of standing with these companies — not to mention consumers — some self-styled “leaders” of the solar movement are betting their futures on the utility industry to win the war.
This dynamic piqued my interest thanks to a rapidly-spreading pledge that the folks at web-based news aggregator SolarWakeup.com posted last week:
The Solar Pledge calls for the advancement of fair and open policies for distributed solar energy generation. Please consider signing the pledge and ask your colleagues to do the same, together we stand for distributed solar.
- Pledge to support full retail rate net-metering and open markets that do not provide participants with anti-competitive advantages
- Pledge to support and advocate for the long term extension of the 30% solar investment tax credit
This is the equivalent of drawing a line in the digital sand. According to SolarWakeup’s Yann Brandt, thousands of individuals and solar energy organizations signed on in the first week after a soft launch, with hundreds more joining each day. But really, if you don’t sign this pledge, you don’t have much standing as an advocate of distributed solar energy.
The benefits of net metering should go without saying to anyone who’s been following this issue. It just makes too much sense to provide solar customers with full retail credit for the surplus solar energy that utilities then sell to other customers at the full retail rate (without paying to generate it). In a sign of the solar industry’s growing strength, state legislatures and energy commissions across the country have upheld net metering policies on repeated occasions in the past year.
Utilities also oppose the solar investment tax credit (ITC). But the hypocrisy of their attacks on this minimal incentive is beyond the pale, even for the utility industry. According to an annual report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), global subsidies to fossil fuels in 2012 totaled $544 billion (with a “B”), or more than 5 times more than subsidies for renewables ($101 billion).
The principles of the SolarWakeup pledge should be a litmus test for anyone who supports an open and distributed energy market that benefits consumers and the long-term health of our environment. It will be intriguing to follow who signs on in the weeks ahead. I’m getting my popcorn ready.