A recent report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center finds that "solar power's rewards are far greater than its costs."
Rooftop solar power's benefits to the environment and electric grid largely exceed the costs of "net metering" programs, according to a recent report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center.
The center reviewed 16 "value of solar" studies from across the country, concluding that "solar panels on homes, schools and businesses often provide more benefits than they receive through programs like net metering, counter to utility claims that solar owners don't pay their fair share."
Net metering solar incentive programs credit solar panel owners at a fixed rate, typically set at the retail price for electricity, when they generate excess power for the grid. The net metering mechanism has been likened to rollover minutes for cell phones.
Based on its review of the 16 "value of solar" studies, the environmental group found the median value of rooftop solar energy to be 16.35 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). The states included in the studies had an average residential electricity rate of 13.05 cents per kWh.
"Solar power's rewards are far greater than its costs," Bret Fanshaw, report co-author and Environment America's solar program coordinator, said in a statement. "We should be encouraging even more solar, not penalizing it."
All 16 studies found that solar energy provided net benefits to the electric grid. The report adds, "12 analyses out of 16 found that the value of solar energy was worth more than the average residential retail electricity rate in the area at the time the analysis was conducted. Three of the four analyses that found different results were commissioned by utilities."
The report identifies at least eight key benefits of rooftop solar power. Benefits to the electric grid include avoided costs in the areas of energy, capital and capacity investment and environmental compliance as well as increased grid resiliency and reduced financial risks and electricity prices. Environmental and societal benefits include the avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions, reduced air pollution harmful to public health and job creation.
Policymakers, the report adds, "should recognize the great value delivered by distributed solar energy by preserving and expanding access to net metering and other programs that ensure fair compensation to Americans who install solar energy."
The environmental group's report aims to push back on proposals against net metering. Utilities and other net metering critics "have sought to portray the program as an unfair subsidy to solar energy system owners," the researchers explained.
In Illinois, solar and consumer advocates are concerned over ComEd's proposal to change the way customers are charged for electricity. Specifically, the company is seeking implementation of a mandatory residential "demand charge," which would be calculated based on a customer's energy use during peak demand periods.
The company says a demand charge would make utility rates more equitable. But opponents are worried that consumers would be hit with higher electricity bills, among other concerns.
"A single hour's careless electricity use can cause an unexpected bill spike that puts energy or other essential expenditures out of reach," reads a letter recently sent to Illinois lawmakers by a coalition of consumer groups and Chicago-area black and Latino elected officials. "In addition, the charges negate the bill savings that customers could see from either saving energy through energy efficiency or conservation measures or investing in renewable energy systems for their homes."
The Illinois Public Interest Research Group is among the organizations opposing ComEd's proposed demand change. Abraham Scarr with the Illinois PIRG Education Fund commented on the recent solar report.
"With the right incentives in place, rooftop and community solar allows individual consumers to save energy and money over time, while also providing benefits to our grid and to society as a whole," he said in a statement. "We should be encouraging even more rooftop and community solar, not slowing its growth."