Rooftop solar has a lot of momentum and the support of a massive populous behind it. But will it be enough to storm the sturdy castle gates of long-established utility institutions?
Battles between utilities and the solar industry are beginning to rage all over the country, but one thing is clear – the war is just getting started.
The Arizona solar industry declared victory over utility Arizona Public Service last fall when the state Corporations Commission voted to impose a $5 tax on APS solar customers instead of the $50 to $100 the utility requested. Unsatisfied with the results of its first messy battle, the utility has regrouped and launched a new attack on solar.
The state’s renewable energy portfolio standard requires APS to get 15 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025 with 4.5 percent of it coming from rooftop solar installations.
The utility has approached the Corporations Commission requesting that the residential requirement be eliminated and that the overall requirement be reduced to 10.5 percent.
But Arizona is just one of several states discussing the fate of rooftop solar.
Duke Energy recently proposed changes to its net metering policy in North Carolina. The utility pays solar customers 11 cents per kilowatt hour for the power they put back onto the grid. That’s the retail rate that Duke charges residential customers. It wants to pay solar customers the 5 to 7 cents per kilowatt hour that it pays for its own electricity generation.
It’s the same issue other states, such as California, Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana and Idaho have grappled with recently as well.
The battle is just getting started in North Carolina. The utility claims non-solar customers are left with an unfair share of the grid maintenance expense, while solar advocates argue the on-site generation saves utilities in grid maintenance expenses.
The Alliance for Solar Choice has said Colorado will be the state to watch in 2014 the way Arizona was the primary battleground in the mounting war between the solar industry and traditional utilities in 2013.
Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, proposed reducing net metering payments as a piece of its overall rate plan.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission voted in January to separate the solar net metering discussion from the utility’s overall rate plan and said it would consider the issue separately.
Solar advocates said the decision was a good one for the industry. It means the commission recognizes solar net metering discussions shouldn’t be rushed and will be important.
While other states making rooftop solar news are seeing the burgeoning industry challenged by utilities, Mike Dudgeon, a Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives, has proposed a bill to allow solar leasing in the state.
Not all states allow homeowners to lease rooftop solar panels. Georgia is a state that has not previously allowed it. Dudgeon said he believes in free market financing and that home and business owners who want to install rooftop solar should be able to finance installations anyway they want.