We may be entering the Year of the Goat, but for monopoly utilities, it’s more like the Year of the Snake. These behemoths have suffered a series of beatdowns over the past two years in their efforts to kill policies that protect consumers and our environment by encouraging the expansion of rooftop solar. At every turn, the solar industry has kept the utilities and their armies of lobbyists at bay. And now, Big Energy is so desperate that it’s resorting to deception and outright lies.
In Arizona, utility employees are ghost writing letters for friendly politicians that spread lies about the solar leasing market. And in Indiana, utilities are pushing legislation too complicated for anyone to understand, pretending it’s pro solar when it’s anything but.
But the culture of deception has been taken to a whole new level in Washington state, where just last year the utilities engaged in a crusade to kill net energy metering. As you probably know if you’re reading this article, net energy metering (NEM) is a policy on the books in 44 states that allows rooftop solar owners to receive fair market credit for the excess energy they deliver back to the grid. In recent years, this key incentive has helped make rooftop solar more affordable for the average consumer.
In fact, NEM has been such a successful policy that the utilities realize the only way to beat it is to curtail it. That’s why they’re supporting a pair of bills currently weaving their way through the Washington state legislature:
- HB 1096 (Morris, Hudgins) would allow utilities to institute new and discriminatory fixed charges on rooftop solar consumers which will undermine the incentives customers have to pursue solar and hurt those that have already chosen to do so.
- HB 1097 (Morris, Hudgins, Moeller) would gut an existing solar incentive program and replace it with a new one that discriminates against customers who want to lease their solar systems instead of buying them outright. This is a regressive policy, as solar leasing has proven to be a way for consumers to benefit from rooftop solar without spending tens of thousands of dollars to purchase a system.
These seem like pretty obvious attempts to stifle competition from the solar industry and put the power (pun very much intended) back in the hands of the utilities. But in a surprising twist, local solar installers, represented by Solar Installers Washington (SIW), have joined with utilities in supporting these bills.
To be fair, SIW notes that it has misgivings about certain aspects of the bills, including the structure of new fixed rates and incentives. But in the same breath, it positions the bills as compromises that will protect its industry from further encroachment. And while there may be short-term protections, the passage of these bills would be a Pyrrhic victory, not a cause to celebrate.
Washington utilities are using these bills as a kind of bait-and-switch to co-opt local solar installers while simultaneously planning their demise. Recent history tells us that fixed charges stifle the growth of rooftop solar in low- and medium-income communities, and placing new restrictions on leasing would have a similar effect. If these types of policies win the day, solar will revert to being a luxury for the rich instead of a viable solution for all.
Nominally, the mission of SIW and similar organizations is to fight back on attacks that threaten to undermine their industry. Unfortunately, in this case, it appears they’ve been duped by the utilities into taking what they can get.
Image: Washington State “Flag” via Shutterstock
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