Regulators to utilities: Don't like net metering? Tough!

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By: SGN Staff

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By Jesse Berst

 

Seems to me that utilities have a strong argument against current net metering practices. Seems to me it is fundamentally unfair that low- and middle-income customers should have to subsidize the fancy solar systems that top many McMansions. But regulators disagree, at least according to two recent decisions. Given that Edison Electric Institute has called distributed solar the biggest single threat to utilities, and given that utility commissions often study what their neighbors have done, this bodes ill for the industry.

 

Many utilities feel net metering is unfair. It forces them to buy renewable power at the retail rate. Thus they get no payment for the cost of keeping the system up and running. Without the main grid, after all, renewables owners would have no way to sell their excess power and no way to get additional power when needed.

 

As a result, everybody else in the utility's service territory has to subsidize the cost of maintaining the net metering connections. The problem is exacerbated since owners of solar panels can often be a) wealthy homeowners or b) wealthy business owners. Although not by design, in practice low- and middle-income customers typically subsidize the high-income folks who have net metering.