Utilities: Getting environmentalists on your side in the net metering struggle



Brian Keane is a leading voice on clean energy, energy efficiency and the environment. As President of a marketing agency dedicated to promoting clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency, he has helped shape the energy debate in the United States. He has long advocated clean energy and energy efficiency to the American consumer.


But in this guest editorial, he backs away from the "solar at all costs" mantra that is still promulgated by some environmentalists. He recognizes that if solar destroys the utility business model, that the solar industry will suffer as well. When the net metering debate gets to your state -- and it will -- you'll want to cite people like Brian as evidence that enlightened environmentalists realize we're all in this together. - By Jesse Berst


By Brian F. Keane


More Americans today use residential solar power than ever before, and the price is dropping dramatically. That’s great news for the growth potential of solar energy and for reducing America’s reliance on fossil fuels, but it’s also threatening a win-win-win situation that has bolstered solar adoption and remains crucial to future solar growth.


That situation involves "net metering” - an ingenious program that allows residential solar owners to sell energy back to the utility when they aren’t using it. Net metering has been a key component - with other financial incentives - to building the solar market in the United States. Indeed, in the mid-2000s, as solar was struggling to get a toe-hold, it provided much of the momentum to keep solar moving forward.


Net metering offered residential solar customers an added financial benefit to putting solar on the roof. It benefited the utility companies who needed the added energy to help feed our voracious energy habits, and it aided solar installers and leasing companies, which gained from the additional offset of solar costs.


Why we MUST maintain the win-win-win

It’s clearly been a win-win-win, and maintaining that shared victory is crucial if we are to continue to grow and expand the industry. For solar to win, no one involved should lose.


Net metering is still a win for the solar customer and for the installer, but increasingly it’s less and less beneficial to the utility companies, who have been - and must continue to be - real partners in rooftop solar. If the economics don’t work for the utility companies, their non-solar customers and their regulators, solar will be the loser.

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