Since 2010, the average cost of solar power has dropped by nearly 60 percent. More-efficient designs and lower production costs have led to a boom in solar-energy use in homes, and a recent study by Cambridge University found that solar power will soon be able to “out-compete fossil fuels, even if oil prices drop to as low as $10 a barrel,” the Washington Post reported.
Because of this rapid increase in affordability and use, utility companies are terrified and are launching attack campaigns to try and limit the damage to their bottom line.
Luckily, as the Post pointed out, the campaign’s push for state laws that would raise prices for solar customers “failed spectacularly” because of a surprising amount of support for solar energy in conservative states.
Now the industry’s focus is on public utility commissions, “where industry backers have mounted a more successful push for fee hikes that could put solar panels out of reach for many potential customers.”
For example, an Arizona utility voted last month to institute a $50 monthly surcharge for “net metering,” a practice that “allows solar customers to earn credit for the surplus electricity they provide to the electric grid.” Those credits greatly lower customers’ bills, helping to offset the initial costs of the solar panels, and having to pay an additional $50 per month cancels out their savings.
A utility commission in Wisconsin also approved a similar charge, and a New Mexico regulator is considering raising fees for solar customers as well. Other states are even targeting minority groups to help argue that solar-panel use causes the electricity rates to rise for non-solar customers, therefore hurting low-income families.
Despite the industry’s claims that a widespread shift to solar energy would raises costs, studies show that those costs are outweighed by benefits.
“For one thing, researchers found, the excess energy generated by solar panels helps reduce the strain on electric grids on summer days when demand soars and utilities are forced to buy additional power at high rates. Other experts note that the shift to solar energy is helping states meet new federal requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also producing thousands of new jobs. The residential solar industry currently employs about 174,000 people nationwide, or twice as many as the number of coal miners.”
Rather than attempting to sabotage the switch to solar energy, utility companies should be embracing it. With the growing concern about carbon emissions and climate change, exploring clean sources of energy means that the industry can continue to function in a world that is increasingly turning away from the use of fossil fuels. By fighting innovation, they are ensuring that they will lose their stranglehold on power and, by extension, their profits.