What You Need to Know about the War on Solar

With everything happening in the news lately, you might hear of the “war on solar” and think it’s just another hyped up headline, but solar power being pushed out by big utility companies is anything but hype.

2016 was the hottest year on record according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and 2017 has seen heat waves, hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires that have caused mass devastation worldwide.

It is a well-known fact that if greenhouse gas emissions go unchecked, things will only get worse. And scientists, policymakers, and activists are striving to mitigate the dangerous impacts of climate change as quickly as possible.

The good news is we are beginning to see a surge  of alternatives, a push for renewables, and more scientific studies looking at local and global solutions to global warming.

In Florida and Nevada, however, those efforts were severely dampened when solar power, a huge opportunity for homeowners in those areas and also a boon to the environment, was all but edged out by utility companies and politicians.

One of the major problems hindering “Big Solar” from really taking off is IOUs or Investor-Owned Utility companies. IOUs want to keep solar from taking off for obvious reasons, it would deeply impact their earnings, and in turn, their investors would also lose big.

An article by Rolling Stone put it best while explaining the dangerous monopoly that has become utility companies.

“But in recent years, the nation’s IOUs have been abusing their monopoly powers to profit from massive infrastructure projects….For investors, the formula is simple: More infrastructure equals more profit,” writes Tim Dickinson in “The Koch Brothers’ Dirty War on Solar Power.”

Solar power has the potential to majorly disrupt utilities because homes won’t have to depend on the grid as much, and more solar means fewer power plants.

But before we cover those big changes, let’s discuss net metering laws.

Currently, 41 states have net metering according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Instituted as a way to credit people back who took advantage of renewable energies for any power they would “feed” back into the grid, net metering laws were a win-win for all but the utility companies.

The financial power of IOUs is seemingly unmatched, which is why so many attempts to bring solar power to its full potential are effectively edged out, through well-financed campaigns, lobbyists, and political figures, funded in some way by the gas and coal industries.

Unfortunately, money seems to be at the root any efforts to block solar. Dickinson in his article talks about how Florida could massively benefit from solar power (it is called the Sunshine State for a reason), but the state is a money making machine for IOUs.

What’s worse, Florida forbids anyone but the power companies to buy and sell electricity. If you want to try and get solar power in Florida, you need to be able to pay the upfront cost, and that can be expensive.

Companies and groups like the Edison Electric Institute and the utility industry’s trade association are doing the best they can to keep solar off the table.

Florida is just one state where solar is struggling, another state that’s been making headlines regarding its floundering solar companies is Nevada.

Solar power used to be huge in Nevada, according to NPR, and business was booming.

However, The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) removed incentives for homeowners who wanted to install solar power leaving once-thriving solar companies like Robco Electric in Las Vegas and SolarCity to lay off workers and in some cases leave the state entirely.

The PUC decision is in direct response to net metering, feeling that it is unfair for people to profit off of power the utility grids are not providing.

All’s not lost though for solar customers in Nevada as big solar pushed back, and in June of this year, Governor Brian Sandoval proposed plans for a bill that would bring back net metering.

The war on solar has attracted some big names who are taking a stand, for example Cecily Strong from SNL was featured on National Geographic’s Years of  Living Dangerously project.

The comedian and actress went to Nevada herself for a video spotlight feature and learned more about solar companies and the struggle to keep the lights on.

Strong sat down with Bryan Miller, who is the Vice President of SunRun, a solar company in Nevada for an interview in the National Geographic clip.

According to Miller, “rooftop solar is the first form of competition that utilities have ever faced” and if there is one thing utilities are not ready for, it’s competition.

This is just another reason why the utilities are pushing back so strongly to keep renewables away.

Utility companies are not built for competition and as renewable energy alternatives gain more and more traction the stronger the pushback will be to keep IOUs from losing money.

Policy makers are beginning to feel the heat of unhappy residents who want more solar and renewables. Solar is poised to be a major player in both reducing the effects of climate change but also driving economic development.

Time will tell if IOUs and the gas and coal industry will switch their strategies to be better equipped to handle renewable energies, but for now, the fight to bring solar to the forefront continues.

Last Updated on July 16, 2021

Ian Haynes