Whether it is reports of melting artic sea ice, sea level rise, draught, famine or forest fires, every day there is a reminder that we need to rapidly get off fossil fuels and transition to a true renewable energy future. Despite these dire warnings, there are forces that are resisting these changes. There has been a ton of media attention on the Trump Administration, which is filled with people that deny the clear scientific evidence that burning fossil fuels is causing the climate to change, but little coverage is given to the attacks on renewable energy at the state level. From purple mountains of Montana to the New York islands, these attacks are happening, led by the same forces that will benefit from an Environmental Protection Agency administrator and head of the Department of Energy who deny climate change and are fulfilling the profit-driven destruction of our climate.
In Montana there are several bills that will roll back incentives for renewable energy by weakening net metering standards. (Net metering is a billing arrangement where the owner of a distributed system, like home solar panels, can export excess electricity into the grid and receive credit for it on their electricity bill.) They do everything from reducing rates paid to rooftop solar to requiring solar producers to install expensive and unnecessary equipment. There is even a bill that would require utilities, the very entities pushing the roll backs, to provide the state with data showing that net metering is a hindrance to the state's energy development. This is despite several studies in other states that show the benefit that net metering has to ratepayers and to avoided energy and capacity costs; decreased or deferred generation, distribution, and transmission investments; avoided line losses; and reduced price and supply risks.
A Nevada study estimates a total benefit of net metering systems to non-participating ratepayers of $36 million during the systems’ lifetimes. An analysis from Mississippi shows that net metered solar rooftop would result in $27 per MWh of net benefits to the state. A Societal Cost Test benefit‐cost analysis was not performed in Mississippi. Were these benefits included, the benefit‐to‐cost ratio would be even greater.
In New York, the state is planning to abandon net metering all together, include surcharges and allow biomass and agricultural waste to receive any benefits that roof top solar providers might receive under the confusing and convoluted system New York is proposing to "encourage" solar development.
The Maine Public Utilities Commission is considering amendments to Maine's net metering law, which we expect to be released in early 2017. The Public Utilities Commission draft plan proposes the elimination of net metering in Maine by depreciating the amount rooftop solar providers receive for energy they send back to the grid by 10% a year for 10 years. They also are proposing a tax on behind the meter solar energy production.
There is legislation moving in Missouri to enact fees on those who use net metering, a move that would stifle net metering development despite a study the state conducted that concluded that net metering is beneficial to all utility customers, even those who don't have rooftop solar.
These proposals to roll back net metering will discourage residential and community solar projects that benefit homeowners, small business owners, renters and those who live in buildings without access to space adjacent to their homes for siting renewable energy sources. This will result in fewer renewable energy projects and a loss in all the benefits that go along with them.
The attack on net metering also led SolarCity and Sunrun to stop operating in a Nevada in 2016. Vivint, the second largest installer of rooftop solar in the United States, announced in July 2015 that it was going to establish a presence in Nevada, but about one month later they reversed that decision when uncertainty in the market place was created through discussions of rolling back Nevada's net metering law. Eventually solar customers in Nevada who had relied on net metering to offset the cost of their panels found that rates they were paid for energy generation would be cut from 11 cents per kilowatt-hour to 2.6 cents — while the monthly service fee nearly tripled, from $12.75 to $38.51. These changes regarding Nevada’s net metering law made the state less attractive to solar installers, and caused solar installation to grind to a halt in Nevada. The elimination of retail net metering in Hawaii led to a loss of 35% of solar jobs, precipitated by a 13% reduction in solar permit applications in the state.
In Wyoming, the attacks on renewable energy are even more alarming. Legislation was introduced that would prevent utilities from selling energy generated by wind and solar farm, and actually fine them $10 per megawatt sold. Wyoming has a tremendous potential for wind energy, but it is stifled by efforts like this. In fact, Wyoming already charges a tax on wind produced in the state.
We have our work cut out for us fighting the Trump administration, but we cannot abandon the state and local struggles for clean energy. In addition to fighting to protect the gains we have made in solar, we must continue to push forward for state energy plans that will bring us to a 100% renewable energy.