I am a lifelong conservative and, also, a strong advocate for solar energy. As I travel the country advocating for solar using a free-market message, I am seeing an awakening among conservatives in this area. There are many areas that conservatives and progressives strongly disagree on, but both are united in a desire to pass on a legacy of true energy independence to future generations of Americans. The right to solar energy is an American issue – not a partisan one.
America was founded on the principles of liberty and freedom, but unfortunately in many states there are regulatory barriers erected by the government that prohibits the freedom of choice for utility customers – especially when it comes to switching to solar.
Most electric power companies have been granted monopoly status by virtue of legislation that grants these companies the exclusive right to sell electric power in their territory. They have a perfect setup in their business model. They have a government-assigned customer base whom they are able to bill for capital investments, thereby making a guaranteed profit. The more new power plants cost, the more money they make.
The average consumer can now, in theory, install solar panels on their rooftops. Solar prices have plummeted in recent years and solar is now cost effective. But there are too many penalties in place that punish consumers who want to switch to solar. For example, in Florida a property tax is added that makes solar uncompetitive to the monopolies. Net Metering allows solar users to sell excess power generated back to the grid and recover the costs of their solar panels much faster. But in states like Wisconsin, the monopolies pay wholesale rate and not retail rate. This is very unfair to solar users because they are prohibited from selling excess power to anyone other than the monopolies.
This amounts to prohibiting competition from rooftop solar and denying consumers the freedom to choose.
We should all experience the freedom that comes from generating our own power and should have the right to sell the excess power generated on our private property. That would unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans, drive innovation and also create jobs in a stagnate economy.
But monopolies want to prevent that from happening. Industry trade group Edison Electric Institute deceptively claimed in a report that if solar users buy less power then non-solar users will see an increase in their power bills to make up for the loss of revenue. This is similar to a hospital seeking to ban fitness clubs because the members would be healthy and therefore need fewer visits to the hospital.
Ms Dooley also cites an important article by Giles Parkinson regarding true accounting for social costs of solar, also at The Guardian. It includes the comment, with which I very much agree, that “Solar has won. It’s just that some people don’t know it yet.”
Update, 10th January 2016
The “The Conservative Case for Solar Subsidies“, in The New York Times, from 5th January 2016, by Ben Ho, former lead energy economist, White House Council of Economic Advisors (President G. W. Bush administration), 2006-2007.