“Despite what utilities claim, going solar benefits everyone,” said Michelle Kinman, clean energy advocate with Environment California Research & Policy Center. “We should be encouraging more solar, not penalizing it.”
The Environment California Research & Policy Center report, Shining Rewards: The Value of Rooftop Solar Power for Consumers and Society, comes as California answers critical questions about the future of net metering and solar energy. Earlier this year, Governor Brown called on California to increase the amount of electricity generated by renewable energy sources, such as solar energy, to 50 percent by 2030. Meanwhile, regulators at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) are working to decide by the end of 2015 what the net metering rules will be for customers who go solar after the current program sunsets.
Net metering programs credit solar panel owners at a fixed rate — often the retail price of electricity — for providing excess power to the grid, similar to rollover minutes on a cell phone plan. The arrangements have helped solar energy skyrocket across the country, but in recent years utilities and their allies have ramped up their attacks on the programs, declaring them unjustified “subsidies.”
Today’s report tells a different story. Of the 11 net metering studies reviewed, all found that solar panel owners offered power customers net benefits, such as reduced capital investment costs, avoided energy costs, and reduced environmental compliance costs. In addition, solar energy creates valuable benefits for the environment and society at large, including avoided greenhouse gas emissions, reduced air pollution that harms public health, and the creation of local jobs.
“Distributed solar power means we don’t have to build expensive new power plants; it means electricity is delivered more easily and efficiently; and it helps save the environment to boot,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, Executive Director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA).
Eight of the 11 studies also found that the value of solar energy was higher than the average local residential retail electricity rate. The median value of solar power across the studies was nearly 17 cents per unit, compared to the nation’s average retail electricity rate of about 12 cents. In other words: utilities that provide retail rate net metering tend to underpay solar panel owners, not subsidize them.
“Not only are we saving money through the Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) program by getting solar for our electricity, but we’re also doing it for the environment,” said Shoshanah Siegel of Long Beach, CA. “We are so excited to be part of the process of using energy that is already there!”
Solar advocates hope today’s report will shed new light on the debate over the state’s net metering program, making clear that net metering is essential to continuing California’s momentum toward a clean energy future. In recent months, over 15 social justice organizations, including the California Environmental Justice Alliance, The Greenlining Institute, and the Mexican American Political Association, and school employee organizations, such as the California School Boards Association, Association of California School Administrators and theCalifornia Association of School Business Officials, have all sent letters to the CPUC in support of expanding net metering.
“Solar power’s rewards are far greater than its costs,” said Kinman. “That’s why we’re calling on California regulators to protect and expand net metering so that many more Californians can generate their own clean energy.”