Utility companies go to war against solar

Utility companies across America are fighting solar, imposing high fees on homeowners who install their own solar panels to feed back into the grid. This one was predictable from a long, long way out -- energy companies being that special horror-burrito made from a core of hot, chewy greed wrapped in a fluffy blanket of regulatory protection, fixed in their belief that they have the right to profit from all power used, whether or not their supply it.

Bruce Sterling once proposed that Americans should be encouraged to drive much larger trucks, big enough to house monster fuel-cells that are kept supplied with hydrogen by decentralized windmill and solar installations -- when they are receiving more power than is immediately needed, they use the surplus to electrolyze water and store the hydrogen in any handy nearby monster-trucks' cells. When the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining, you just plug your house into your enormous American-Dream-mobile -- no need for a two-way grid.

This solution wasn't just great because it aligned the core American value of driving really large cars with environmental protection, but also because it was less vulnerable to sabotage from hydrocarbon-addicted energy companies.

HECO, despite criticism from Hawaii’s solar industry, denies the moratorium is anything more than an honest effort to address the technical challenges of integrating the solar flooding onto its grid.

The slowdown comes in a state where 9 percent of the utility’s residential customers on Oahu are already generating most of their power from the sun and where connections have doubled yearly since 2008.

In California, where solar already powers the equivalent of 626,000 homes, utilities continue to aggressively push for grid fees that would add about $120 a year to rooftop users’ bills and, solar advocates say, slow down solar adoptions.

Similar skirmishes have broken out in as many as a dozen of the 43 states that have adopted net-metering policies as part of their push to promote renewable energy. In Colorado, Xcel Energy Inc. has proposed cutting the payments it makes for excess power generated by customers by about half, because it says higher payouts result in an unfair subsidy to solar users.

Utilities Feeling Rooftop Solar Heat Start Fighting Back [Mark Chediak, Christopher Martin and Ken Wells/Bloomberg]

(via /.)

(Image: Solar Panels All Done!, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from clownfish's photostream)

Notable Replies

  1. Yes, the subsidies to solar users are unfair. That what subsidies are, is unfair. They don't like it when the shoe's on the other foot, eh?

  2. Solar works. The power company said it couldn't work. When they are proved wrong they stop them by other methods. Make the utilities public again and we can end this non-sense.

  3. So let me see if I have this straight:

    • Power costs too much.

    • In places where there is lots of sun, people look to solar energy to supplant some of that need.

    • But solar panels are very expensive, probably too expensive to ever recoup the cost directly, so the government subsidizes some of the cost. Energy companies also allow some people to connect their panels to the grid, reducing the cost of the electricity that the power company provides.

    • That makes solar panels more attractive to buy, and the hope is that the more people adopt the technology the better and less expensive it will become.

    • But the power companies aren't prepared for this influx of backfeeding solar customers, and can't adequately provide the equipment necessary to keep the grid running the way it should. So they're telling customers that they can't feed their solar panel energy back into the grid anymore, causing people to complain.

    Maybe it's a money grab from the power company, but if it is, it's not a very aggressive one. These people can still use their solar panels to power their own home. Their power bill will still be a slight fraction of what it would be without the panels, they just can't get a negative bill or get it down to as close to nothing as they thought.

  4. The primary excuse being employed by HECO is not entirely BS.

    The electrical grid in the US is antiquated. It was not originally built with two-way power supply in mind, and it has never been upgraded for this since then. When they say "we need to upgrade the system to handle solar-supplied power", they're not lying. De-privatizing the power companies will not change this.

    The question becomes "who pays for it?" It's certainly not a cheap fix. It's going to cost somebody about half a trillion dollars. If the cost is evenly distributed, then people who don't have solar will be paying extra to subsidize upgrades they don't personally need. If solar users have to cover it themselves, solar will no longer be financially attractive enough to install, and the upgrades won't even be necessary. Some would probably argue that the utilities should be paying, but even if you think they're making "too much" right now, they're definitely not making enough to pay for it out of pocket.

    In a perfect world, a smart grid upgrade would be federally mandated. It's too important and too necessary to be left to the discretion of utilities who would be perfectly happy making easy money as they always have. The cost should be divided up between all parties - federal, state, utilities, and customers. Yes, the early solar adopters should probably have to pay a bit more or get reimbursed for their spare energy a bit less than they're getting now. It's a big shit sandwich, and everybody is going to have to take a bite to get it eaten.

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