Sent By Senator Lena C. Taylor
By NBCSL Energy Transportation and Environment Committee Chair Rep. Joseph Gibbons
The potential for positive impact of solar energy is enormous.
Our ability to harness the power of the sun to heat our homes and power our lives in an environmentally sensitive way is revolutionary.
This technology will undoubtedly influence nearly every facet of our lives in the coming years and decades, and we will all be better off for it.
But as solar technology continues to improve, some of the policies around it remain outdated.
The result: benefits accrue only to a small number of people who can afford the technology, while the costs of these benefits are subsidized by the working class, low income and minority families throughout Milwaukee and our state.
To get to where we need to be, we must champion a more inclusive and equitable vision for how we use solar power.
We need a vision that ensures that everyone benefits equally, whether you are a solar participant or not.
Recently, the Milwaukee Common Council adopted a resolution that would have taken steps to level the playing field for consumers.
While the Common Council should be applauded for trying to promote a greener environment, concerns remain regarding the unintended economic consequences of such policies on those who can least afford it.
Those who opposed the resolution did so because of its regressive nature that unduly burdens lowincome consumers and working class families.
The primary cause of inequitable outcomes stem not from the rooftop solar itself but from something called “net metering,” and program subsidies initially created to urge more residential roof-top solar installations.
Whether a homeowner buys or leases their rooftop solar system, net metering requires utility companies to buy back any excess power they may generate at the full retail price.
The full retail price credit brings substantial savings to those with rooftop solar, but because it is more expensive it provides a financial disservice to all the remaining consumers – including those without solar panels and low income consumers.
These consumers are burdened with higher bills because they have to pay for the solar homeowners’ share of the costs of the electric grid.
Since homes with rooftop solar continue to rely on the transmitting and distributing services provided by the grid, they should share equally in the cost to maintain of the grid.
Many policymakers in other states are just now waking up to the fact that this dynamic is fundamentally flawed.
Many are revisiting their net metering policies and attempting to assure that solar power continues to grow –but in a more equal and fair manner.
Arizona, for example, recently added a surcharge to the monthly bills of solar owners in an effort to ensure that all electric customers pay their fair share for benefiting from the electric grid.
California has also been actively investigating the impact of net metering rules in its state and recently determined that, if its policies aren’t augmented, those without rooftop solar would end up paying $1.1 billion more for electricity by the year 2020.
In all, about 20 states are reexamining their net metering polices to address this cost shift.
It is also why the National Black Caucus of State Legislators has a paper entitled, The Need to Develop and Implement Equitable Energy Policies, that focuses on the economics of cost shift.
Other states didn’t have the benefit of NCBL’s views on this issue but Wisconsin regulators and policy makers do and should consider this as they work get the economics around energy policy done right to benefit all consumers.
There are fears remains that supporters of Council’s resolution, including rooftop solar leasing firms who put their interests ahead of consumers will also attempt to roll back these policies.
For these many reasons, Wisconsin has a real opportunity to lead on this issue, bring together important views and work towards a solution that makes sense for all of our residents. We should embrace renewable energy but only if its benefits and costs are shared equally by all.
Ultimately, nobody should be in favor of programs that deliver benefits to one class of residents while exacting deep costs on the most vulnerable families, those on fixed and low incomes.
We can – and must – do better. Let’s hope the Wisconsin Public Service Commission keeps energy policies fair and equitable while charting Wisconsin’s solar future.