As the inevitable shift to solar accelerates, the old entrenched fossil fuel interests are getting desperate in their fight to slow its growth and hold on to the old status quo for a bit longer. As I dug into the details and what this latest attack means for our region I am reminded of the old saying: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” The shift to clean energy is here to stay, but this is one more fight we must face on our path to a sustainable future.
This latest fight is an attempt to move net metering policy from state to federal control. It is being pushed by a shadowy utility tied group who is paying extra fees to “rush” this change through a normally cautious process while the nation is distracted responding to the Covid-19 crisis. Net metering can vary greatly state to state, and in Ohio we have already been through several changes that have watered down net metering from the “full retail net metering” that many states still enjoy. Today in Ohio the PUCO rules allow owners of solar systems to offset up to 100% of their monthly energy at the full retail rate (zeroing out their bills). In 2017 a court decision favoring Ohio Utilities reduced the compensation for net excess energy exported each month from full retail value to the much lower utility cost of generating the energy. This change slightly reduced the economic benefits of solar, but hasn’t stopped the huge shift of consumers taking control of their energy production with solar.
So – what does this latest attack mean for solar in Ohio? Unfortunately we don’t know for sure. The current FERC petition asserts that FERC cap the value of exports at the utility’s avoided cost. If it stops there, Ohio solar owners wouldn’t see much of an impact as most customers rarely overproduce each month. For those that do occasionally generate more energy than they use, the value that they can carry forward would drop from about 5.3 cents to 4 cents per kWh (or $20-30 per year for some of our customers with very large systems). While this is not so scary, if we hand over this state level policy making to a single federal board, it would likely be easier for the desperate fossil fuel interests to influence policy and there is a possibility that things could get much worse. One drastic change could be a shift from monthly net excess generation to a “dual meter system” such as in place in parts of Tennessee where exported solar energy is valued at this low generation rate at an hourly basis instead of monthly.
While we are not too worried about such drastic changes that could impact the Ohio solar market, we strongly favor keeping these policies at the local state level. If successful, this secretive group would undermine the more favorable state net metering policies currently driving the national solar revolution and prevent us in Ohio from enacting our own policies that would stimulate our economic growth, improve the resilience of our utility grid and clean the air that we breath. We encourage you to ask our Governor to keep this decision making in Ohio. The easiest way to do this is to generate a customized letter at savesolar.org.