Does EEI Cost Shifting Statement Signal Shift in Net Metering Debate?


There’s been a new turn of events in the ongoing solar net metering discussion. At a conference this week, David Owens, executive vice president of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), said he isn’t opposed to all cost shifting.

As reported by EE News, Owens stated, “I’m not opposed to cost shifting. I said ‘unreasonable’ cost shifting.”

The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) has hailed this statement as a radical departure for EEI.

“This is a wholesale change, quite a flip-flop,” Bryan Miller, co-chair of TASC and Vice President of Public Policy and Power Markets at Sunrun, told us. He added that Owens had a chance to retract or revise his comments with the press after the conference, but instead did the opposite, saying this has always been the position.

Why is this important? EEI has been at the forefront of claiming that net metering imposes an unfair burden on electric customers (especially lower-income ones), because solar customers are shifting the costs of maintaining the grid to those without solar.

Now, it appears, EEI no longer has a problem with cost shifts. According to EE News, Owens said he supports cost shifting from energy efficiency, “as long as it’s cost-effective.”

While Owens did claim that the cost shifting from net metering is “significantly higher” than that from energy efficiency, that doesn’t seem to be the case. In recent testimony, Xcel Energy in Colorado testified that energy efficiency beats solar 10-1 when it comes to cost shifting.

TASC maintains there is no cost shifting at all from solar and is supported in this by a number of studies. The most recent study, conducted by consulting firm E3 for the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN), found that net metering not only doesn’t shift costs but provides net benefits to all Nevada ratepayers — $36 million worth through 2016. In other words, using the latest methodology, in a conservative state, the study found a net benefit to net metering.

“There’s not an unreasonable cost shift,” Miller told us. “There’s no cost shift at all.”

Whatever you think the size is of the cost shift — whether zero or a lower or higher number — what’s significant is that EEI has said the debate is not about whether there should be cost shifting. There is some shifting happening, though — and that’s this big shift Owens has made in the public dialogue.

Why did Owen make this statement? As Miller, noted, “a gaffe in Washington is when someone accidentally tells the truth.”

And this truth changes the net metering discussion from a subjective debate to one based on facts. If reasonable cost shifting is okay, the math will show where net metering stands. That’s assuming everyone can agree on the assumptions used in doing the math, but that seems to be happening with the latest studies.

Miller’s assessment of the new discussion? “It will make everybody’s life easier.”