Over the past two years, utility companies in more than 40 states across the country have attacked rooftop solar to protect their monopolies. Rooftop solar is the only true form of competition the utilities have ever faced, and their attempts to either eliminate it or monopolize it are unceasing. To date, the solar industry has thwarted these attacks to preserve consumer choice and competition. Now the utilities’ anti-solar crusade has hit West Virginia in the form of a two-pronged attack.
First, utilities like AEP and FirstEnergy tried to slip specific anti-solar language into a bill to repeal West Virginia’s 2010 renewable energy law. The language would have eliminated a critical solar policy called net metering. Net metering gives solar customers full, fair credit for the excess electricity they provide to the electric grid. The policy gives West Virginians a choice in how they get their electricity — a much-needed alternative to the monopoly. That attempt to eliminate competition proved to be a losing battle. Consumers and local businesses voiced their support for energy choice, and that lethal, anti-net metering provision was removed from the renewable energy bill, HB 2001. However, while West Virginia consumers and the solar industry won the battle, it turns out that was just round one. AEP and FirstEnergy have launched a second round of attacks.
The utilities are now trying to change the solar rules through a different bill (HB 2201). This new bill would eliminate solar leasing in West Virginia. Leasing removes the upfront costs to allow people of all incomes to install solar on their roofs. Utilities like AEP want to keep solar in the hands of the limited, wealthy few in order to stifle the growth of the industry. Leasing has allowed rooftop solar to take off across the country. Utilities don’t want it to take hold in West Virginia because they want to maintain their monopoly status and limit competition.
Across party lines, the public supports solar overwhelmingly. Conservative support for solar is particularly strong. Take South Carolina, for example, which just became the 44th state to institute net metering. In a recent poll commissioned by Barry Goldwater Jr.’s conservative solar organization TUSK, 92% of voters said consumers should not pay an additional fee to invest in solar panels. In Arizona, another red state, 83% of conservative voters would be less likely to vote for a candidate who wants to end solar power. And in Louisiana, 76% of conservatives agree the opportunity for homeowners to go solar is important for providing choice and competition in electricity.
During the utilities’ first round of attacks in West Virginia hundreds of consumers wrote in to support rooftop solar. It’s clear evidence that solar businesses and consumers – West Virginia voters – won’t stand for a monopoly power grab. Their voices removed the poison pill from the utilities’ first round of attacks, and they’ll continue to speak out against anti-leasing provisions in HB 2201.
(Miller is co-chairman of The Alliance for Solar Choice.)