How utility companies try to undermine solar power

Solar power has grown substantially as the price of residential solar has fallen. Home solar has made it easy for millions of Americans to reduce their utility bills. While the solar revolution has been a boon to homeowners, utility companies have been less than enthusiastic. Some major utilities have resorted to behind-the-scenes lobbying and other sneaky ways the utility companies have tried to undermine solar power.

Blocking the Sun: Utilities and Fossil Fuel Interests That Are Undermining American Solar Power

A report produced in 2017 by Environment America called Blocking the Sun: Utilities and Fossil Fuel Interests That Are Undermining American Solar Power details the efforts of 20 fossil fuel-backed special interests and electric utilities in 12 different states. These groups worked behind the scenes to reduce net metering benefits and create new demand charges that would be levied against homeowners with solar systems.

The Edison Electric Institute

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) is a trade group that represents U.S. investor-owned utilities. The group has worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to create model legislation that anti-solar lawmakers can introduce in state legislatures to repeal state renewable electricity standards and net metering. Where these attacks have been successful they have eroded the savings afforded to consumers through solar power.

Groups like ALEC and EEI get significant funding from organizations like Americans for Prosperity (AFP). Organizations like AFP are dark money groups, they don’t have to disclose their donors. Those donors are typically very wealthy people who have substantial investments in fossil fuel companies and investor-owned utilities. 

Utility companies that accept support from anti-solar groups

Some utility companies have accepted help from groups like EEI, ALEC, and AFP to attack pro-solar policies in their state. These attacks are often launched by misleadingly named front groups that are made to sound pro-consumer.

Florida Utilities try to restrict the growth of solar

In Florida, Duke Energy, Florida Light and Power, Gulf Power Electric, and Tampa Electric Company funded a front group called Consumers for Smart Solar. Far from being a pro-solar group, as the name implies, the group was the primary backer of a failed 2016 ballot initiative that would have restricted rooftop solar growth. In 2017, Florida Power and Light provided language to lawmakers for a bill to restrict the growth of solar power in Florida

Arizona utilities turn to dark money to slow the growth of rooftop solar

Two of the largest utility companies in Arizona, the Salt River Project (SRP) and Arizona Public Service (APS) have had some success in promoting anti-solar policies including those that reduce the value that consumers get from net metering. Those utility companies have also successfully fought to impose new demand charges directly on solar system owners that erode their savings.

Utah’s Rocky Mountain Power tries to end net metering

Rocky Mountain Power has tried more than once to end net metering in Utah. The company has also tried to levy additional fees on rooftop solar owners. The only thing that stopped Rocky Mountain Power was a public outcry. The company was forced to grandfather all current solar owners into net metering.

El Paso Electric tries to charge solar owners higher rates

Texas’ El Paso Electric has tried more than once to create a separate and much more expensive electricity rate for solar system owners. That rate would be charged to solar owners for power consumed from the grid. Those solar owners would then be compensated for the power they supplied to the grid at a much lower rate. That would have wiped out the savings afforded by solar to system owners. In 2015, the company spent $3.1 million on an attempt to create that higher rate, the attempt failed. The utility then turned around and charged that $3.1 million to its ratepayers.

Nevada Energy halted the growth of solar for two years

In 2015, Nevada Energy successfully lobbied the Nevada legislature to end net metering in that state. The move was calculated to kill residential solar power in Nevada. It worked, the growth of rooftop solar effectively stopped in Nevada for two years. Widespread public protest against the measure effectively reinstated net metering in Nevada in 2017.

Measures to cripple rooftop solar are ongoing

The behind-the-scenes efforts to undermine solar power are ongoing. As of mid-2017, there were around 90 policy actions being pursued to hamper the growth of rooftop solar. These efforts include limiting net metering and creating new fees that target solar system owners. Thankfully, groups like the Solar energy Industries Association and The Solar Rights Alliance and others are fighting back.

California’s Solar Rights Alliance (SRA)

The SRA is a California solar advocacy organization that was founded to fight back against California utility lobbyists. According to the SRA “Across California, lobbyists for the utility industry are working to make it harder and more expensive for Californians to choose solar energy. In recent years they tried to kill net metering, hit solar owners with new fees, and grab control of the next generation of solar technology.” Freedom Forever supports the SRA in its mission to protect the rights of California consumers to go solar.

The Mission of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)

The SEIA is leading the transition to the use of renewable energy in America. The goal of the organization is to create a framework for solar to supply 20% of the nation’s energy needs by 2030. SEIA works with over 1,000 member companies including Freedom Forever and other strategic partners, to “to fight for policies that create jobs in every community and shape fair market rules that promote competition and the growth of reliable, low-cost solar power.”SEIA has been fighting the sneaky ways utility companies try to undermine solar power since the organizations’ inception.

If you own a home solar system or are considering getting one in the near future, you should consider supporting the SEIA, SRA, and other groups that fight for your right to go solar. Freedom Forever is committed to working with pro-solar groups whenever possible to preserve the rights of Americans who go solar.

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