Washington Utilities Embracing A Culture Of Deception

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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.

washington state flagBut 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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Peter Allen

is an independent media strategist based in San José, CA. You can read his many musings on Twitter @pjallen2.

Peter Allen has 29 posts and counting. See all posts by Peter Allen

8 thoughts on “Washington Utilities Embracing A Culture Of Deception

  • I live in WA and I’m contacting the SIW to see what the hell they are thinking.

  • what about a solar panel price of 0.50 dollarcent a kw
    order 5000 kw Alibaba and pay 2500 dollar
    soft cost installing again 0.50 cents a kw makes a total of 5000 dollar rooftop solar. I installed 5000 kw for 6000 dollar three year ago and prices have gone down. where you get the price of tens of thousands for rooftop solar?

    • Installation, inspection and permitting costs in many areas of the US are exorbitant.

      On the positive news side, Maine’s legislature has a couple good bills this session, one of which would increase the size & number of shareholders in solar cooperatives with virtual net-metering to 25 owners and 1MW. I’d love to buy into one of those!

    • “I installed 5000 kw for 6000 dollar three year ago and prices have gone down.” OHH REALLLLY?????

      That would be $6000/(5000 kw x 1000 w/kw) = $0.0012 per Watt!!!

      Which planet is this?

      • Clearly he meant Watts, not kilowatts.

  • The facts in this article aren’t accurate…The Washington Solar Incentives were designed for owned solar, not leasing. Leased solar has never been able to receive incentives in Washington, so HB 1097 doesn’t change anything. The Solar Installers of Washington are probably more worried about solar leasing devastating their local industry than anything. I think it’s pretty cool that the state tax dollars to stay with local solar companies, and that they are working with utilities to make solar feasible in Washington.
    The huge national leasing companies are probably just not happy about the fact that the local industry wants there to be consumer protections in place around leasing (which they are supporting in other legislation). Besides, the biggest leasing companies in the country are currently under investigation for taking advantage of Federal Tax dollars…Washington’s utilities are mostly public and municipal (not big bad monopolies).
    I’m sure the local industry knows exactly what they are doing.

  • I wish I could follow the money to see who is paying author Peter Allen. Mr. Allen has no clue about what is happening in Washington; he is only parroting the deceptive talking points of The Alliance for Solar Choice (City).

    I invite Mr. Allen to come and sit in on the talks we are having with our utilities, and then maybe he would be qualified to write on this subject. The reality is that most utilities in Washington are publicly owned and that these utilities keep the investor-owned utilities in check. I’m not making this up, this is a long history in Washington, going back to the 1930’s, but Mr. Allen knows nothing of that history, so he should really come on up here and check it out. Yes, it is a challenge to do this work, but we have been leading the nation with a solar production incentive since 2005, and now we are going to break some new ground with our utilities. We don’t do it by lazily lobbing bombs from a web site.

  • Why don’t you Yankees break up your utilities in transmission, distribution, production and retail parts? And allow competition in production and retail? It is the free-market, libertarian thing to do, and would save your from this utility sabotage.

Comments are closed.