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The utilities and fossil fuel interests that are undermining American solar power

2017 Edition of a report by Frontier Group and Environment America Research & Policy Center
Download the report as a PDF.
Photo: Calin Tatu via Shutterstock.com
The growth of American solar energy in the past decade is the result of smart, solar-friendly state policies that put clean energy within the financial reach of millions more Americans. But in 2017, many utilities continued to chip away at key state policies that put rooftop solar on the map in the United States, making it harder for more Americans to invest in clean energy.

Solar power is clean, affordable and popular with the American people.

In the past decade, solar energy has boomed across the United States. As prices for solar panels fell by 73 percent from 2006 to 2016, the number of U.S. residential rooftop solar installations saw consistent growth, hitting the 1 million mark in 2016. Today, there is enough solar energy in the United States to power one in 14 American homes.

Holster 1 of Shy Bookstyle Thin Pattern HD LMAZWUFULM Leather 10 Foldable Function Flip with 7 Case Magnetic Closure Ultra Inch Leather Panda Cover Fire Cover Stent 10 for Amazon 2017 Pattern Case Leather PU In 2017, solar generation averted approximately 55 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution, equivalent to taking nearly 12 million passenger vehicles off the road. It’s no surprise, then, that the vast majority of Americans support solar energy: A 2016 Pew Research Center survey showed that 89 percent of Americans favor increasing the use of solar power.

Photo: Elena Elisseeva via Shutterstock.com

Strong public policies have fueled the rise of solar energy.

The rise of American solar energy, which has grown more than 43-fold in capacity since 2007, is no accident. In addition to dramatic price drops—residential solar installations fell in price by 43 percent from 2010 to 2015—forward-looking policies have cut red tape and made solar power more affordable for consumers.

Policies like net metering, renewable electricity standards, third-party ownership, and federal and state tax credits have been particularly important to the growth of solar energy, but electric utilities seeking to undermine solar growth often target these policies. In addition to replacing net metering with lower reimbursement rates for excess solar energy, other common tactics seek to complicate rate design and make solar less of a good investment.

Industry-friendly appointments change the playing field for federal solar policy.

Background: President of the Koch-funded Institute for Energy Research and former Koch lobbyist in D.C.

Position: Led the Department of Energy transition.

Background: Director at the Texas Public Policy Foundation — which has received Koch funding and worked against state renewable portfolio standards.

Position: Headed up the Department of the Interior transition.

Background: Director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, another Koch-funded group, which has openly lobbied Congress to end a federal program that helps fund net metering programs for those with rooftop solar panels.

Position: Led the Environmental Protection Agency transition.

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Background: Former vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research.

Position: Oversees the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

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Background: Current vice president of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, which owns utilities PacifiCorp and NV Energy.

Position: Nominated as Under Secretary of Energy.

Since this report was released, Mark Menezes has been confirmed as Under Secretary of Energy.

Background: Once served as a federal lobbyist for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a trade group that later supported the Florida anti-solar initiative Amendment 1 and has advocated for other anti-solar policies such as monthly fixed fees for rooftop solar customers.

Position: Confirmed for a seat on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Background: Alumna of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and co-authored the think tank’s book "Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy", which argues against shifting from oil and gas to renewable energy sources.

Position: Nominated to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Since this report was released, the White House withdrew Kathleen Hartnett-White's nomination.

Background: Former Edison Electric Institute executive who served as the vice president of political and external affairs for the utility group.

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The new positioning of electric utilities to influence policy on a federal level warrants vigilance and strong policies in the states to ensure rooftop solar continues to have a bright future.

Logos: Public Domain

Many utilities and the fossil fuel industry are fighting to stop the growth of solar energy.

To companies that sell coal, oil and natural gas, solar energy represents an obvious long-term threat to the viability of their businesses. To electric utilities that burn these fossil fuels, solar energy installed by individuals and businesses represents a different type of threat, one with much more immediate consequences. Some electric utilities warn that distributed generation is shifting costs from solar customers to average ratepayers; as more individuals and businesses “go solar” and benefit from programs like net metering, they argue, the cost of providing access to the grid will be shared by fewer ratepayers. As the price of energy storage technology declines, more customers will have the ability and the incentive to abandon the grid altogether, triggering a “utility death spiral.”

Despite these claims by utilities, studies show that distributed solar energy actually provides net benefits to society and the electric grid. By reducing waste, pollution and improving efficiency, rooftop solar users deserve to be fairly compensated for the power they produce.

Photo: U.S. Air Force

Solar power has been almost universally embraced by the American public and is delivering benefits to the environment and economy.

Solar energy’s immense popularity isn’t limited to any one segment of the population. According to a 2016 Pew Research Center poll, 89 percent of Americans—including 83 percent of conservative Republicans—favor expanding solar power in the U.S. Widespread popular support for solar energy, combined with a growing understanding of solar energy’s benefits, has limited the success of fossil fuel interests’ anti-solar lobbying campaigns.

State decision-makers should resist utility and fossil fuel industry attempts to reduce the economic viability of distributed solar energy. Policymakers should also uphold our country’s commitment to reduce carbon pollution, and ensure that solar power plays a major role in any strategy to reduce global warming pollution.

LEARN MORE

Read the news release Download the report Read our latest reportsLearn more about our Go Solar campaign

Contact: Rob Sargent
Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy Senior Director
(617) 747-4317

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Go Solar Campaign Director
(602) 252-9225


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