By David Schieren and T.R. Ludwig*
Governor Cuomo’s clean energy policies have accelerated the growth of clean energy across New York State. Solar energy in particular has been a major success story, spurring billions of dollars of investment, creating thousands of jobs, cleaning the air and reducing the risks of extreme weather. As the CEOs of New York solar energy companies, we have seen this success first hand. Our companies have helped thousands of homeowners and businesses go solar. But we worry about our ability to do so in the future.
The New York Public Service Commission, which regulates state utilities and sets electricity policy, has helped facilitate much of New York’s clean energy success. For example, the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative seeks to scale up clean energy technologies by reforming the way utilities do business.
However, not all REV policies have advanced a smooth transition to a cleaner future. The Public Service Commission itself has acknowledged that some of its policies have been overly complicated, such as its proceeding to identify the exact value of energy from commercial solar projects. While well-intentioned, the Commission has sometimes allowed the perfect to become the enemy of the good, slowing down clean energy deployment that is helping New York reach its ambitious climate goals. Thankfully, the Commission recently issued an order improving its compensation methodology for commercial solar projects.
More trouble may be on the horizon, this time regarding the residential rooftop installations you’ve probably seen on a neighbor’s house. The Commission is now reassessing electric rates for new residential solar customers and is considering adding a monthly fee that could jeopardize homeowners’ ability to go solar in the future. An unreasonably high monthly fee could wipe out solar customer savings and block residents’ ability to gain control over their utility bills. Utilities say these fees are needed to cover grid operating costs. However, there is substantial disagreement about how to value the costs and benefits that solar customers deliver to the grid.
This proposal has mobilized a coalition of more than 30 environmental organizations and solar companies to take action. Today, they are sending a letter to Governor Cuomo and state policymakers, urging them to continue policies that support the growth of solar energy. Specifically, the coalition is urging state leaders to maintain rates that will help New York meet its clean energy goals; maintain solar access for low-income residents; protect New York’s nearly 10,000 jobs; support entrepreneurship and innovation; and help modernize the grid and improve resiliency. These goals are essential for New York to achieve its clean energy targets and the vision behind the REV initiative.
While all forms of clean energy provide environmental benefits, solar and batteries offer the potential to modernize New York’s aging grid. Batteries help protect people from outages, continuing to power essential medical equipment, home heating and emergency phone lines for those who need them most. In addition, in the near future, these “distributed” solar and battery systems will be aggregated together to meet grid needs and replace dirty fossil fuel plants.
In addition, the solar industry’s job creation potential is unparalleled among modern energy technologies and is creating full-time jobs that cannot be automated or outsourced. Rooftop solar helps homeowners, small businesses, schools and houses of worship control their ever-increasing utility bills. More money in the pockets of local families means more economic activity in our communities.
Energy policy is an area where details matter and overcomplication is a real risk. We cannot quickly transition to clean energy without encouraging innovation in the private sector. And clean energy innovation requires the Public Service Commission to maintain frameworks that allow cutting-edge technology providers to compete in a sector historically dominated by large monopolies that are slow to innovate.
New Yorkers realize that now is an historic moment to dramatically accelerate clean energy adoption. As the federal government continues to roll back progress on clean energy and climate, it’s more important than ever that states pick up the slack and continue to lead the way. We implore the Public Service Commission to bear this in mind. This is a critical time to roll up our sleeves and keep solar a success story in New York.
About the Authors: David Schieren is the CEO of EmPower Solar and a board member of the New York Solar Energy Industries Association (NYSEIA). T.R. Ludwig is the CEO of Brooklyn SolarWorks.
*This article was supported by the Alliance for Solar Choice
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