“But framing the conversation as a fight isn’t productive—for anyone,” according to a press release from the Rocky Mountain Institute.
The Colorado nonprofit describes itself as a think-and-do tank dedicated to the efficient and restorative use of resources.
The institute conducted a review of 15 different studies used to value solar energy and created a discussion paper called “A Review of Solar PV Benefit and Cost Studies” published this week.
Among the 15 studies the group reviewed were some commissioned by utility companies and some commissioned by solar advocates.
Legislative threats to net metering programs that pay solar customers retail power rates for the excess electricity they generate have made headlines in states like Louisiana, California and Arizona in recent months. Fuel for those debates has come from conflicting studies, some revealing that the capital investments homeowners make are saving utility companies on infrastructure and future power plant development and utilities should pay even higher rates for distributed solar photovoltaic power while other studies show that utility companies will have to raise rates on other customers in order to continue paying retail rates for power they’re forced to buy from solar customers and that they will suffer from the increase in intermittent power supply.
Rocky Mountain Institute leaders suggest that utilities and the solar industry resolve their disputes and work together to find a meaningful solution to the issues created by the changing energy landscape.
“As the penetration of distributed solar continues to grow, it is vital to see it as an integral, fundamental part of the electricity system and not just as a ‘bolt-on’ solution,” said Lena Hansen, principal at RMI and co-author of the study. “Appropriately valuing solar PV and the other distributed energy services provided by every actor in the energy equation is part of this process of realignment.”
The review of the 15 studies found that they were all different and had different approaches and conclusions, however, most of the studies acknowledged their shortcomings.
“There is broad recognition that some benefits and costs may be difficult or impossible to quantify, and some accrue to different stakeholders,” according to the review’s executive summary.
Most of the studies used similar methodology to value the electricity generation capacity.
“There is significantly less agreement on overall approach to estimating grid support services and currently unmonetized values including financial and security risk, environment, and social value,” according to the report.
One thing is clear, RMI principals say – the fighting needs to stop and utilities and industry leaders need to agree on a way to value distributed solar.
“Understanding the costs and benefits of distributed generation is the most significant issue facing the energy industry in our generation,” said Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff. “Balancing the cost and benefit equation will determine whether consumers pay reasonable costs for new energy infrastructure development or pay for costs that may be unnecessary and wasteful.”