Those quite familiar with this blog are well aware of the fact that I’m not a fan of the large solar leasing companies. The following story is yet another reason to dislike these businesses.
Just this past April, a bill was defeated in Maine that would have allowed for the continued expansion of solar power in the state. It had the support of utility companies, the state’s public advocate, top Democrats, clean energy groups, and local solar installers.
The proposed bill was meant to be a replacement for net metering. Dubbed “next metering” the program involved utilities compensating solar customers with a credit for their solar power through long term contracts. The credits would decline in time as the cost of solar power is expected to in the future. Homeowners would still get good return on investment time frames and the utilities would pay less for distributed solar power over time.
How was it killed?
Top members of The Alliance For Solar Choice, representing the nation’s largest solar companies, sought to stop the bill from becoming law. They have spent significant money lobbying to influence top Republican leaders and the state’s Republican Governor, Paul LePage to prevent the passing of the bill. The Public Utilities Commission is now reviewing the proposed legislation, that would have been passed by now.
Why was it killed?
Any changes to net metering can be seen as significant threat to the fragile business models of the nation’s big solar companies. In fact, a slight reduction in net metering credits can completely kill the economics for these large companies. The fear from the national solar installers is that if net metering is killed in Maine, it could happen in other states across the country.
Net metering, in and of itself, is a good thing. A homeowner should be fairly compensated for their solar panel system’s excess power. The problem is that many utilities are not happy with current net metering laws. The bill that was proposed in Maine, to replace net metering, can be seen as a compromise that will allow solar to continue to flourish.
The large solar leasing companies simply want to become the new electric utilities. Not much would change from the perspective of homeowners. They would simply be switching utilities when signing a long term solar leasing contract. Sure, going solar is better than continuing to use electricity generated by fossil fuels, but a huge opportunity is lost when solar is leased.
By far the best value in solar power is offered by installers that help homeowners own their solar panel systems. The federal tax credit and other state credits and rebates go to the homeowner when solar is purchased, not leased. The “next metering” solar bill would have helped to make solar ownership a reality for many more residents of Maine.
Looking at a slightly longer time frame, the conversation will begin to switch to home energy storage instead of net metering. The economics for solar power energy storage will continue to look better and better in the coming years. At that point, the control and power will have literally transferred to homeowners. Homeowners must be the final victors in the power struggle between utilities and large solar companies.
Democratization of energy – this is the true potential of solar power.