Solar Industry News

Why Do Utilities Want to Discourage Net Metering?

Fortunat Mueller of ReVision Energy speaking at an E2Tech forum on solar energy in Maine

With all of these fights about net metering in the USA, you may be asking yourself, "Solar creates jobs, helps the environment, and helps people save money, why is this even an issue?"

Solar presents a predicament for utility companies. Once someone has gone solar, their electric bill is reduced, if not eliminated (down to a minimum fee, somewhere around $12/mo to stay hooked up to the grid).

The utilities argue that once this has happened, the solar customer now relies on the grid but doesn't pay their fair share to help maintain the grid. Yet, this argument has been refuted in every study of solar's impact on the grid; most recently, Maine's own Value of Solar study .

The irony is that the utilities have it backwards - solar generators actually BENEFIT the grid, and save money for all ratepayers. On hot summer days, the grid is stretched to its max, and expensive dirty energy from 'peak' plants are called up to meet the grid's needs. As it happens, at the exact same times these peak plants would be called into service, solar panels are generating near their maximum output, saving everyone money since the demand for expensive and dirty peak energy is reduced.

Coincident Peak Load Solar Power With The Grid

Solar's impact on reducing grid demand on a particular day in May, 2015. This is from ISO New England's 2016 "State of the Grid" report. Without solar, midday electrical demand would be much higher.

We have continually called on utilities to look towards the future and transform their grids into smarter, more distributed systems. Truly, solar customers and utilities can and should be allies in the transition to a clean energy economy. While battery technology is evolving rapidly and is extremely promising, there are huge advantages towards the public utility grid continue to exist - it just needs to be modernized.

We point to examples such as the Boothbay Harbor pilot program where the energy needs of the peninsula are being met with solar + battery + load shaving + energy efficiency measures which in total should cost 1/3 of the price of traditional power line construction project, while also offering huge benefits throughout the year.

We also encourage Maine and New Hampshire's utilities to look towards neighbors, such as Green Mountain Power in Vermont who recently partnered with Tesla to offer the PowerWall to customers in Vermont, and has been named "Utility Solar Champion" by VoteSolar.