Solar Industry, Utilities Seek Common Ground

The solar industry is split over whether utilities are allies or adversaries.

SALEM, OR - NOVEMBER 14: Andrew Koyaanisqatsi installs solar panels for a domestic hot water system November 14, 2005 in Salem, Oregon. Koyaanisqatsi, owner of Solar Energy Solutions in Portland, works full time as a solar panel installer and represents a growing trend for home owners in Oregon seeking energy efficiency. 
National Journal
Clare Foran
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Clare Foran
Feb. 20, 2014, 2:51 p.m.

A di­vide with­in the sol­ar in­dustry over wheth­er util­it­ies are an ally or an ad­versary could be a stum­bling block in emer­ging ef­forts to over­haul rate struc­tures for cus­tom­ers who provide some of their own elec­tri­city.

With rooftop sol­ar pan­els pop­ping up across the coun­try at a re­cord pace, rate is­sues have taken cen­ter stage in high-pro­file reg­u­lat­ory cases in Ari­zona, Cali­for­nia, and oth­er states over the past year. The is­sues are nowhere near settled, but cer­tain seg­ments of the sol­ar in­dustry and some of its back­ers say there should be less squab­bling and more co­oper­at­ing between clean-en­ergy pro­viders and big util­it­ies.

There is even a new ef­fort by two ma­jor or­gan­iz­a­tions of­ten at odds with each oth­er to open a dia­logue on the is­sue.

Last week, the Edis­on Elec­tric In­sti­tute, a trade as­so­ci­ation rep­res­ent­ing in­vestor-owned elec­tric com­pan­ies, and the Nat­ur­al Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil, one of the na­tion’s largest en­vir­on­ment­al groups, re­leased a joint state­ment in sup­port of policy changes to help put more clean en­ergy on the grid.

“What we’re try­ing to do now is start a con­ver­sa­tion between util­ity and sol­ar pro­viders so that we can equit­ably solve the cost of us­ing the grid,” said Ral­ph Cavanagh, co­dir­ect­or of NRDC’s en­ergy pro­gram.

When it comes to the sub­stance of that con­ver­sa­tion, however, the sol­ar in­dustry is split. A ma­jor reas­on for that is dis­agree­ment with­in the in­dustry over wheth­er util­it­ies are friends or foes.

“The sol­ar in­dustry is very di­verse, and when you look at the vari­ous in­terests at play, they don’t ne­ces­sar­ily align,” said Ju­lia Hamm, pres­id­ent and CEO of the Sol­ar Elec­tric Power As­so­ci­ation, which counts both sol­ar com­pan­ies and util­it­ies among its mem­bers. “But a grow­ing num­ber of voices in the in­dustry are will­ing to sit down with util­it­ies and talk about find­ing a solu­tion that be­ne­fits every­one.”

One seg­ment of the small but grow­ing sol­ar in­dustry has little trust in power-com­pany gi­ants.

“Util­it­ies are con­stantly try­ing to change the rules in a way that would hurt sol­ar,” said Bry­an Miller, pres­id­ent of the Al­li­ance for Sol­ar Choice, an ad­vocacy group for rooftop sol­ar pro­viders. “We’ve worked to start up ne­go­ti­ations, and in some cases util­it­ies have been open to dis­cus­sion, but in many situ­ations what we’re see­ing is that they in­sist on noth­ing short of push­ing policies that would kill rooftop sol­ar.”

Oth­er mem­bers of the sol­ar sup­ply chain see things dif­fer­ently. “A large seg­ment of the sol­ar in­dustry has an out­stand­ing re­la­tion­ship with the util­it­ies,” said Jim Hughes, CEO of First Sol­ar, a sol­ar-pan­el man­u­fac­turer and ser­vices pro­vider. “We work very closely with util­ity pro­viders — they’re some of our largest cus­tom­ers.”

At the heart of the dis­putes are rate struc­tures for cus­tom­ers with sol­ar pan­els.

Sol­ar users in most states can sell ex­cess power back to the grid — a policy that rooftop sol­ar com­pan­ies say is sound. But util­it­ies ar­gue that the flood of elec­tri­city has strained the sys­tem, and they want res­id­en­tial sol­ar cus­tom­ers to pay ex­tra as a res­ult.

This di­vide could be­come a stum­bling block in ef­forts to broker con­sensus over rate struc­tures.

“We’re not all on the same page right now, and that’s only nat­ur­al be­cause we’re a young in­dustry,” said Tom Wern­er, CEO of Sun­Power, a sol­ar-pan­el de­sign­er and man­u­fac­turer and pro­vider of both util­ity-scale and res­id­en­tial sol­ar. “But en­ergy is a policy-driv­en mar­ket, so a frag­men­ted ap­proach won’t work in the big pic­ture.”

The road to reg­u­lat­ory change will un­doubtedly be rocky. Des­pite the chal­lenge, in­dustry back­ers re­main op­tim­ist­ic that sol­ar can find its way.

“There is com­mon ground [between util­it­ies and the sol­ar in­dustry], and that’s to provide en­ergy and con­sumer choice. As long as we have a true north, we’ll get there,” Wern­er said.

What We're Following See More »
WANTS ANSWERS ON CLINTON EMAIL PROBE
Senate Judiciary Sends Questions to Loretta Lynch
15 hours ago
THE LATEST
ARE “OPEN TO NEGOTIATION”
Sens. Paul, Cruz, Johnson and Lee Oppose Senate Health Care Bill
1 days ago
THE LATEST

The four Senators released a joint statement, saying in part, "There are provisions in this draft that repreesnt an improvement to our current health care system, but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs."

Source:
TRUMP SUGGESTED THERE WERE TAPES
No Comey Tapes
1 days ago
THE LATEST

Trump tweeted Thursday afternoon, "With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are "tapes" or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings."

Source:
DEVELOPING
Senate Healthcare Bill In Trouble?
1 days ago
BREAKING
BETTER CARE RECONCILIATION ACT
Senate Republicans Unveil Healthcare Bill
1 days ago
BREAKING
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login