(3Bl Media/Justmeans) - With the solar investment tax credit (ITC) recently extended for five years, it would seem that the coast is now clear for the solar boom to continue expanding at an ever-accelerating pace. After all, with these tax credits in place, coupled to the fact that solar prices continue to fall, the solar option just keeps getting more attractive to homeowners from coast to coast. The biggest question would seem to be whether to go ahead and get solar now, or to wait for prices to fall even further.
However, there is more to the story. Since the vast majority of home solar installations are connected to the grid, using power from the local utility to supplement what rooftop systems can generate at peak times, plus all their power at night and on cloudy days, that relationship with the utility must be maintained. A key enabler that makes this arrangement affordable for the homeowner is the notion of net metering. Net metering laws, which are determined at the state level, provide for consumers to be compensated for energy they generate, but don’t use. Currently, 45 states have net metering laws.
Given the fact that utilities are already losing business to solar, they are not eager to participate in what many of them see as their own destruction. This is why the net metering laws have become the new solar battleground.
Even in California, which is generally at the progressive leading edge on any environmental issue, the issue is contentious. A new ruling by the California Public Utility Commission, due out in a week, was expected to extend the existing benefit, based on a proposed decision, issued in December. However, a recent proposal by utilities, led by San Diego Gas & Electric, suggests reducing the amounts utilities must pay for power that they buy back from homeowners, from 15 cents per kWh to 13 cents until a certain threshold is reached, at which time, the net metering obligation would be eliminated. This story is not over, but is merely the latest round in what is clearly a negotiation.