Panelists at Energy Finance 2016 this afternoon described how utility companies are battling frantically to stop the spread of rooftop solar.
George Cavros of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said solar proponents nonetheless have attracted a broad coalition of supporters that cross traditional political lines.
Cavros said a ballot initiative in Florida to protect rooftop net-metering—which allows homeowners and businesses to be less reliant on the electricity grid—includes large retailers, environmentalists, Christian groups and Tea Party activists.
“The media was entranced by the fact that conservatives were supporting solar power … but conservatives come at it from the position that no one can tell me what I can do on my roof. It’s very much an anti-monopoly movement. It’s a pretty formidable coalition.”
Karl Rabago, director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center, said utility companies are arguing for never-ending commitments by ratepayers that leave them as captive customers.
“They’re saying I installed a pole for you and you can’t stop using it.”
Panelists said utility companies have responded to net metering with ballot initiatives of their own and with tainted public policy research and think-tank studies meant to spread disinformation.
Thad Culler, an energy-industry lawyer with Keys Fox & Wiedman, said “this messaging has worked for regulators, but customers want something different.”
He said substantial rooftop solar rights movements have taken root in 40 states since 2013, and the issue, once regional, has become national.
Rabago said rooftop solar rights resonate in the “sharing economy,” in which business models like Uber, Zipcar, and AirBnB have gained huge traction.
The issue, he said, “is in vital need of common-sense communication.”