Even by fossil fuel industry standards, the hypocrisy of groups like the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) talking up solar power and benefiting from it, while simultaneously working to prevent regular people from also benefiting from it, is truly breathtaking. A few points from the recent Washington Post scoop, “Utilities wage campaign against rooftop solar,” and a follow-up analysis on Utility Dive, highlights what we’re talking about.
- “The utility industry has been waging a war on rooftop solar,” with the Post citing “documents from a 2012 Edison Electric Institute (EEI) board meeting that identified distributed generation as a potential thread to grid reliability and the utility business model” and urging the utility industry to “prepare an action plan to address the challenges.”
- The Post article specifically cites this presentation, by EEI Executive Vice President David K. Owens, entitled “Facing The Challenges of a Distribution System In Transition,” in which Owens lays out the “Challenges and Obstacles for Fairness.” Those include what Owens (misguidingly) calls “hidden subsidies like net metering,” which he (erroneously) claims “allow higher income customers to avoid system costs, which are then paid by middle and low income customers.” Owens further (falsely) claims that “under net metering, such [distributed generation] projects pay little distribution or other fixed costs, despite the fact that they impose new costs on the system.”
- After all this bashing of net metering and other policies — feed-in tariffs, RPS requirements, “zero net energy goals and targest,” microgrids — Owens then attempts to claim, laughably, that “we do support the desire of our customers to adopt distributed energy resources.” The Washington Post article further quotes Owens’ claiming, again laughably, that EEI is actually “pro-solar” and that utilities “are putting in more solar than any other industry.”
- A recent article on The Energy Collective basically demolishes Owens’ negative talking points about net metering supposedly allowing “higher income customers to avoid system costs, which are then paid by middle and low income customers,” as well as his false claims that net metering means that distributed energy “projects pay little distribution or other fixed costs, despite the fact that they impose new costs on the system.”
This one’s worth quoting at length.
Enter the “solar hurts low income people” argument, which claims that low-income people are paying higher bills to subsidize solar power they can’t afford, and thus advocates and lawmakers should oppose it. This argument is misguided, ignores critical information, and often emanates from industry groups trying to turn low-income communities against clean energy.
…To forge fair, lasting solutions, we need real, unbiased data and analysis on the costs of solar to customers and the grid, some of which already exists:
- Fact: a study commissioned by the California Public Utilities Commission found that solar customers on average cover their full costs to the electric grid;
- Fact: a study by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission and a study from the Mississippi Public Service Commission found that solar customers provide a net benefit to all ratepayers;
- Fact: an analysis from Deutsche Bank finds that rooftop solar will be as cheap as traditional power by 2016 in all 50 states (this is already happening in 11 states); and
- Fact: an analysis from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) found that even the most aggressive net-metering solar programs would have minimal (0.1-2.7 percent) impact on electricity rates.
So, why would some industry groups want to slow the growth of local solar? (Spoiler alert: it’s about THE MONEY!) The LBNL study found that local solar will have significant impacts on utility shareholder profits – up to a 40 percent loss for some. It seems clear that the efforts to attack local solar may have more to do with threats to utility profits than negative impacts on low-income people.
Bottom line: anyone who supports rooftop solar power and other forms of distributed energy need to be aware what the utility industry is really up to, and fight back against it hard.