Environment America report finds utilities coordinate efforts to stall rooftop solar growth
Special interest groups across the country are working to curb the growth of rooftop solar, according to a new report released Thursday by Environment America Research & Policy Center and PIRG Education Fund. Utilities, in particular, are maneuvering to end or drastically change the popular grid metering policy that ensures solar panel owners in 40 states and Washington DC receive fair compensation for the clean energy they supply to the grid.
The report is called “Blocking solar panels on the roof” pulls back the curtain on the strategies promoted by fossil fuel lobby groups and adopted by many utility companies. These groups are campaigning to halt the growth of rooftop solar in Ohio, Florida, Illinois, California, Kansas, South Carolina and with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). This multi-state effort over the years involves coordinating strategies, tactics and funding for solar energy campaigns. In particular, their plan includes:
To win these changes, special interests are creating “astro-turf” front groups with neutral names like the Consumer Energy Alliance, in an effort to influence decision-makers to support anti-solar laws or regulations.
“Rooftop solar has changed the American energy landscape, allowing people to transform their homes to become clean energy producers instead of dirty energy consumers,” he said. Susan Rakovy, president of the Environment America Research & Policy Center’s Clean Energy Program. “But instead of embracing this success story, utilities and other special interests are coming together to undermine rooftop solar by making it more expensive — just as it proves its importance to America’s clean energy future.”
Utility gains usually come from capital investments in the electrical system, such as new central power plants or large transmission line projects. Rooftop solar challenges traditional profit models by putting power generation in the hands of consumers and by reducing the need for large, centralized grid infrastructure and fossil fuel power plants.
“Rooftop solar is cheaper, more efficient and within reach of more American households than ever before,” he said. Matt Casalea, Director of Environmental Campaigns at PIRG Education Fund. “It is also key to maintaining a healthy and secure future for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. Americans deserve to reap the benefits of this clean renewable technology, but until we pull back the curtain on efforts to undermine it and create a clear path for its success, communities won’t get what they want — and deserve.”
The battle for the future of rooftop solar is particularly high in California. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SoCal Edison), and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) use the roadmap outlined in this report to push for drastic changes in grid measurements in California. Earlier this year, PG&E, SoCal Edison and SDG&E moved to create the nation’s highest fixed costs for solar customers while reducing the net meter payments solar customers receive.
The California Public Utilities Commission is expected to make a decision on the future of the state’s grid meter program by the end of 2021.
“California has set historic goals for a clean energy future, and that future depends on rooftop solar,” said Laura Deehan, California Environmental Research & Policy Center state director. “Utilities’ proposal to end grid metering would hamper solar growth in the Golden State, right at the time when we most need strong policies to support clean energy. The California Public Utilities Commission would don’t let it get away with it.”
News from Environment America