Vote Solar, a national solar advocacy group, exhibited public support for solar net metering before the Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC) on Wednesday. This comes as recent polls show overwhelming majorities of support for full-retail-price net metering in both Louisiana and Florida.
Net metering is policy in 43 states, allowing home- and business-owners with solar installations to receive a credit per kilowatt-hour for the electricity their systems feed into the grid. Often the credit is set at the retail electricity rate. But utilities across the country are lobbying for reductions to this rate and the elimination of the policy.
Louisiana has a net metering law mandating that utilities pay solar owners in their service areas the full retail rate for electricity sent into the grid. However, participation is capped at just 0.5% of peak electric demand, making Louisiana’s net metering program the fourth most restrictive in the nation.
“Arbitrarily capping participation in net metering is anti-consumer and anti-economic growth,” said Nathan Phelps, Program Manager of Distributed Generation Regulatory Policy at Vote Solar. “We encourage the [PSC] to act in the interests of the Louisianans they serve by quickly clearing the way for continued individual investment in solar.”
Louisiana utilities are also urging the PSC to reduce net metering rates to a wholesale price per kilowatt-hour. The Louisiana PSC was expected to vote on the future of the net metering program this week, but instead announced it would make those decisions in November and meanwhile sponsor a study of solar costs and benefits.
"We applaud the commission for taking a serious, quantitiative look at the value of solar," said Bryan Miller, President of the The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), and VP of Public Policy for Sunrun.
The Louisiana public overwhelmingly supports solar net metering at full retail rates according to a recent poll put out by Vote Solar and the Alliance for Affordable Energy. Four out of five respondents said that net metering rates should remain in place, while three of four said that the net meting program should be expanded to more participants.
Floridians feel similarly, according to another new poll. About three out of four people support current net metering policy there, while roughly the same percentage reject utilities’ proposal to impose a fee for solar customers.
“This poll sends a strong message to Florida utilities that customers won’t stand for attacks on rooftop solar,” said Miller, adding, “the findings are consistent with polls nationwide that show overwhelming public support for rooftop solar and opposition to anti-solar monopoly utilities.”
Many utilities across the country are confronting net metering policies in their jurisdictions. The Edison Electric Institute, an investor-owned utilities group, put out a report last year that identified distributed solar as a major threat. Others conclude that distributed solar confers economic benefits overall, even if damaging to the utilities’ profits alone.
The arguments over net metering are arriving in Florida, too. "Florida overwhelmingly supports more solar, but Duke Energy has come in from out of state to try to dismantle Florida's solar industry," says TASC's Miller.
These net metering debates across the country foreshadow an inevitable departure from business as usual. The traditional utility business model with allegiance to investors is not compatible with a surging distributed generation industry.