The rooftop solar business is booming as more Americans look to cut energy costs, go green, or just spend money on a cool conversation piece. As great as this is for homeowners hosting dinner parties, it’s bad news for utilities who are losing out on business Newsweek reports.
Utilities are very set in their ways. The only way to distribute electricity, as far as they’re concerned, is from one centralized location out to the masses. Allowing home owners to plunk panels on their roofs is a foreign, disruptive concept. So, they’re fighting it:
In some cases, utilities are actually taking direct steps to thwart rooftop solar. Two weeks ago in Colorado, the state’s biggest utility, Xcel, tried passing a surcharge on homes and businesses using rooftop solar power. The rate hike would’ve generated $180 million, $55 million of which was slated to help fund Xcel’s newest coal-fired power plant, the Comanche Unit 3, due to come online this fall. The public went ballistic, and with pressure from Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, the proposal was eventually shelved. In early July, New Mexico’s biggest utility, PNM, filed an official request to dramatically reduce incentives for businesses and homeowners to install solar panels, and is now fighting with state lawmakers over whether it has the right to exclusively own solar panels systems hooked up to its grid. During California’s last legislative session, Southern California Edison, which serves 13 million residents, pressured a Palm Springs assemblyman to pull a bill he’d introduced that would allow the city of Palm Desert to pay solar users for the excess power they generate.
…It’s not hard to understand why a big utility might not like the idea of homes, businesses, schools, and even government buildings being covered in solar panels. If every building in America is generating its own solar energy, that throws a big wrench into their business model. It’s why utilities have historically been opposed to solar power, say solar’s advocates. But as most states have passed renewable-energy standards recently, mandating that a certain percentage of their energy come from renewable sources, utilities have become reluctant players in the solar game because, frankly, they have no choice. Rather than get on board with rooftop solar, though, utilities decided to do what they do best: build a centralized system of large power plants, and make money by charging customers for taking power off the grid. While large-scale utility projects do hold the promise of generating massive amounts of electricity, so far they’ve delivered precious few new sources of electricity, as dozens of proposed projects are languishing in the application process. Building the thousands of miles of new transmission lines these projects require not only costs millions, it’s fraught with red tape: zoning and permitting regulations, and issues like eminent domain, as lines are strung across both public and private property. Read the whole thing →
It’s pretty clear that the government needs to focus on transforming our power business and its operations as much as it does on developing new alternative energy technologies.
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