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11 February 2014, 1:15 PM
Fossil fuel industry seeks to protect bottom line by quashing solar growth
Workers install solar PV panels on top of a building. (NREL / Craig Miller Productions and DOE)

(Clarification: This column references a letter by California Public Utilities Commissioner Mark Ferron, who said public utilities would likely “strangle” rooftop solar if they could. In a separate part of the letter, he blamed the fossil fuel industry for preventing a national policy on climate change and energy, which as the column points out, is evidenced by the industry’s national attack on distributed energy sources like rooftop solar.)

Last month, departing California Public Utilities Commissioner Mark Ferron sounded the alarm on an anti-clean energy trend gathering momentum across the U.S.

In a sharply worded letter to the commission, which regulates all of the state’s privately owned electric and gas utilities, he warned that The fossil fuel industry public utilities would likely "strangle" the growth of rooftop solar energy if they could. Ferron advised his colleagues to avoid putting the interests of utilities over those of the public. He was referring to a growing war on solar being waged by utilities across the nation fearful of the threat to their basic business model.

From California to Colorado to North Carolina and other states, many generators of centralized fossil fuel energy are trying to prevent individual Americans from producing clean, renewable solar energy on their own roof tops. They would deny us the opportunity to participate in the greater goal of shifting away from polluting, climate-altering fossil fuels.

There is a simple reason for the utilities' action: They fear losing their monopoly hold on revenue from power production.

Solar employees install PV modules on a Colorado home participating in a solar incentive program. (Dennis Schroeder / NREL)Solar employees install PV modules on a Colorado home participating in a solar incentive program. (Dennis Schroeder / NREL)

Rooftop solar is a game changer that lets consumers generate their own power, reducing the need for a centralized power system and cutting to the heart of the utilities’ comfortable position of a guaranteed return. For more than 100 years, power companies have profited from a centralized energy model that distributes power from a fossil-fuel burning power plant out to users through a grid of power lines.

Rooftop solar transforms the system by letting residents and business owners generate their own energy and send extra energy to the grid to power their neighbors’ homes and businesses. It allows us to exercise greater control over how much energy we use and from where it comes. People with rooftop solar save on their energy bills, they offer clean energy to others around them, and they reduce demand on the overall power system. They also save communities the risks and costs that come with fossil fuels: climate change, toxic air pollution, water pollution, stresses on community drinking water supplies and more.

Customers who send extra clean energy from their homes and businesses to the grid provide significant value and should be fairly compensated; but instead, utilities seek to penalize them in an effort to make this increasingly cost-effective resource appear uneconomic. Legislation is proposed in 25 states to limit, tax or fine rooftop solar and net metering, the billing arrangement that allows rooftop solar customers to get credit for providing energy to the grid.

Further, in their portfolio planning, utilities are deliberately undervaluing the benefits and overvaluing the costs of rooftop solar. Much of this is an orchestrated campaign by corporate lobby group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to promote legislation that encourages continued fossil fuel use and discourages competition from renewable energy sources. The Guardian reported that ALEC sponsored at least 77 anti-clean energy bills in 34 states in 2012.

In the face of this powerful, well-funded campaign, the individual consumer gets small comfort from government. Congress has utterly failed to address the issue with national policy, and there is weak oversight at the state level, even in California, which is considered a national leader in clean energy development. Ferron noted that California’s PUC has been much more attentive to utilities’ concerns than to innovative clean energy policies.

Solar panels take in the sun on a Hawaiian rooftop.Solar panels take in the sun on a Hawaiian rooftop.

Earthjustice is defending against the war on solar with the goal of advancing a transition to clean energy. For example, after months of legal advocacy before Hawaiʻi’s public utilities commission, we and our allies forged an agreement with electric utilities to greatly increase the number of rooftop solar systems connected to the grid. This should pave the way towards weaning that sunshine-soaked state from its 90-percent reliance on fossil-fueled energy generation.

In California, we helped bring about a groundbreaking decision to build innovative high-tech energy storage systems to lessen the state’s dependence on fossil fuels and expand the capacity of the grid to absorb the state’s rapidly expanding solar use. And in Colorado, we are in court defending against an industry attack on the state’s far-reaching renewable energy standard.

We’re not going to stand for inaction in the nation’s capital or for utility industry attacks in the states. We seek an energy grid that is open to the public, so that Americans can participate in and benefit from ending our reliance on fossil fuels and delivering clean energy. We’re fighting towards that goal one roof at a time.

"America has the natural resources to meet its energy demand with clean, renewable energy. It's time to harness that full potential." http://clmtr.lt/c/DlU0fz0cMJ

Global clean energy investment hit a record $260 billion in 2011. That's five times as much as 2004. The shift to clean energy is already happening. Let's keep it going. http://clmtr.lt/c/DlU0fz0cMI

To decrease our dependence on fossil fuels is a necessity for all Americans. Fossil fuels are a temporary energy source already massively depleted in. We must use renewable energy sources to cease our dependence on an energy source that shall run out. Fossil fuels are destroying our atmosphere and continue to hurt our environment. We must use solar power as much as we can and lessen our use of fossil fuels. Let solar energy thrive!

I have kept my comments to myself regarding this solar energy thing.
But after the past two months of having to put up with record breaking snow falls I have this to say to California.....
YOU CAN KEEP YOUR DAMN SOLAR MAYBE YOUR SOLAR CAN CURE YOUR DROUGHT.

Lets say I installed $17,000 worth of solar panels thinking Obama was right. Well I have done some research of my own over this and I can say thing OBAMA IS FULL OF CRAP.

Mr. Obama I suppose you feel I am supposed to get up on my roof after each snowfall and shovel off the snow from those solar panels? Hmm, have you ever stood on a roof that has a 30 to 40 degree pitch? Kind of slick.
And since the first part of January we have had record breaking snow falls, sometimes as much as 4 inches. Mother nature is has not let her sun shine to keep electricity going in my home. Waiting for the snow to melt. Besides the number of days the sun has shown is limited to probably 6 within the last 6 weeks.

Ok, Mr Obama what is your answer for that...
Oh wait how are you keeping all those lights going there at the White house with YOUR solar panels. Oh, wait you still have conventional coal burning generated electricity dont you....may how hypocritical of you.

Since you have not specified your exact situation, it is not possible to analyze exactly what can be done. However, have you considered alternatives like a ground based system or even a canopy based system over your deck, for example.

Hating on Obama is not a way to have a helpful or meaningful discussion of this subject. Actually, solar will be helpful for California because it will not require the water that a coal based or nuclear based power plant would.

rooftop PV is not ALWAYS a good choice. Keeping the panels clean is just one of several "downside factors." On the upside (and it's huge) is generating power WHERE it is needed using pre existing infrastructure. Since I consume so little power the investment
doesn't make sense for me. If your bill is $100.00/mo and up then a rooftop PV installation may be cost effective over time. At my rate of use (appx $25.00/month) I couldn't recover costs even if I did the install myself.

Ranters on both sides need to INTROSPECT

"democrat favorite" , you are a fool. how you connect the president with snow on your solar collector is asinine. GO SOLAR !!! GO WIND !!! DOWN WITH NUCLEAR !!!

So our harsh winters is Obama's fault?? And because of this harsh winter, you are REJECTING alternative energy in favor of dirty coal and oil? Just trying to make sure I understood what you actually said here...
Because that has got to be one the craziest things I have ever heard!

If you install a new metal roof or asphalt shingle roof, is the POTUS's responsibility to come clean the snow of of it? It's his problem to remove snow from YOUR house??? Really?? NO not really. IF you decide to install solar, I would assume you would do what everyone else who installs solar does and would be to RESEARCH and LEARN what you are doing!! And yes, that would include what to do if there is snow on the panels!

In my opinion, you are just another troll who had NO intention of installing solar anywhere at anytime and you just like to blame everything on the President. Sorry, that's not gonna work. There are many many different kinds of solar systems - if you want one and want to save on your electric bill, then do the damn research and just install it. But don't expect anyone to do that maintenance for you - YOU will have to do it yourself. You maintain your car and rest of your home don't you??? WHY on earth would this be any different for pete's sake??!! Oh and while you are researching solar, learn the difference between CLIMATE and WEATHER. Okay? Okay.

ps. I live in the middle of a GIANT forest and guess what.... THE SUN SHINES HERE!!! Even in the winter time! Yes, during the winter!!! The glare off the snow is so blindingly bright we can't open the shades until late afternoon!! There is PLENTY of SUN!!! And guess what else? There is ZERO snow on my roof or on my barn. Zero. Might be the record snowfall for my state ever and it still doesn't matter - THE SUN SHINES EVERYDAY!

Your roof slope too steep? Put the panels on the garage and quit bitching!

Another aspect of this is national security. By more individuals generating and storing their own energy it makes it more difficult for a natural disaster or foreign aggressor to knock out everyones power at once.

excellent point!

Check out this film if you want to see how dastardly the energy utilities really are - you may be shocked

http://www.takebackyourpower.net

I wish the article had described the anti-solar argument and exposed its fallacies. As I understand it, the utilities believe that the grid will crash when a cloud goes in front of the sun and the resulting increased demand on the grid will cause problems. I would like to see that argument examined.

I wish the article had described the anti-solar argument and exposed its fallacies. As I understand it, the utilities believe that the grid will crash when a cloud goes in front of the sun and the resulting increased demand on the grid will cause problems. I would like to see that argument examined.

Great piece Trip,
This is not just in the US. It's global. Seems like an orchestrated strategy to kill the concepts of economic benefit of clean energy, leadership as a competitive advantage, promote the meaninglessness of climate change, and ignore the realities and externalizes all around us.

Whenever an inefficient status quo is threatened by common sense improvements the people putting that wasted money in their pockets get belligerent and call their lobbyists.

The sorry state of healthcare in the US (yes,even with Obammercare) is THE prime example of this fiscal entrenchment. Insurance companies suck 20% of every healthcare dollar out of the system. It's part of the new law which sets this limit.

Utilities will protect profits EVEN IF THEY KNOW they're doing long term harm to earth's biology.

PROFIT TRUMPS THE FUTURE it seems

We desperately do need this to go through!

Marketing
John
http://855casolar.com

We desperately need clean energy! Anyone who is against that is just plain crazy! We've messed with the planet too much already.

You could see this battle coming decades ago! If the utility companies are willing to destroy the Earth and their own kids' future to make a buck, then why would they act rationally or decently to allow people to choose solar (or wind and other renewables) to power their homes and businesses? THEY LOSE if we keep doing this!

The main way to fight them is to continue to GET OFF THEIR GRID! They can't tax what they don't own! They can't meter it, unless they want me in their faces with a shotgun!

In Western Mass., during the late 1970's, Northeast Utilities decided, over and over, against a repeated vote from the towns in the area, to build a nuclear power plant. They erected a weather observation tower to gather data. A student at Amherst College, Sam Lovejoy, toppled the tower, then went to the police and turned himself in. This raised awareness locally and nationally, like the Seabrook protests, about the dangers of nuclear war and the bullying attitude of power companies. Despite Lovejoy's protest, the company kept putting the tower back up! Then Lovejoy would knock it down again. For a full story of his victory (no nuke in Montague, MA!), watch this video:

http://www.gmpfilms.com/LNW.html

Recently, the state of Vermont, led by its governor, won the closure of the Vermont Yankee nuke, after years of battling a Louisiana based company who violated their agreement to close the plant and after lying about it spilling radioactive waste into the Connecticut river. The locals and the states of Vermont, Mass. and New Hampshire stuck together, both in and out of court and finally won.

We CAN fight these seemingly invulnerable giants, greedy and rich as they are! We need organization, determination and technology that will make their destructive setup obsolete. Don't stop now!!!

Burning more fossil fuels and creating more climate damage makes no sense at all unless you follow the old saying, "if it doesn't make sense, follow the money". If you can get a copy of it, read The Creature from Jekyll Island by G. Edward Griffin. You'll understand a lot more of what is happening in the energy sector.

It's time for the electric companies to realize that theirs is a dieing business model. It will not be long before the electric companies begin to go the way of the oil and coal industries and they would be wise to get out of the way! The people will not stand for monopolies gouging the public and will vote for big changes in the way things are done.

The oil and coal companies run everything. That's where the electricity comes from and that's what produces the co2. We have to deal with the monopolies until the govt. breaks them up. Or people get their energy elsewhere!

The oil and coal companies run everything. That's where the electricity comes from and that's what produces the co2. We have to deal with the monopolies until the govt. breaks them up. Or people get their energy elsewhere!

Good news, but please watch the ludicrous mixed metaphors like "pave the way towards weaning". Paving hasn't anything to do with weaning.

A figure of speech commonly used and rarely inferring anything about pavement!

While the rest of us are pondering the very important issue at hand, you are focusing on and nitpicking about the wording of a sentence. Perhaps your tighty whities are a couple sizes too small?

In hawaii, on the main island of oahu is battleground central. our electric utility, HECO, is saying that we can only have a max saturation of 15%, whereas our neighbor islands are allowed upwards of 25% saturation. HECO owns every island except kauai, and kauai is making huge strides in clean energy as a result. i understand heco is in the business of selling energy, and the grid is expensive to replace, and you cant have energy uploaded in mass quantities at certain times of the day, but they are basically evil, and something has to give. we have many solar companies on oahu, and its getting towards armageddon already with everyone wanting solar, and neighborhoods saturated, we are going to have massive bankruptcies in the solar business and unemployment etc. something has to give. people need to sign online petitions at the very least or govt and the monopolized utilities will walk all over us in our sleep so to speak. the banks have beaten up the middle class so bad that they are for the most part drawing the curtains and focusing on survival, but we cant do that. we have to all at least click click on online petitions so govt does not bowl us over and turn america into a police state ruled by corporations and greasy politicians.

Somebody needs to invent a single roof-top machine that converts both sunlight and wind to electric energy. Meanwhile, a bicycle-powered generator could build up a 24-hour supply of power and plenty of exercise. That way each house would be energy independent.

I love your ideas of a bicycle-powered generator & a rooftop machine that converts both sun & wind into energy. I don't know how feasible they are (though I don't know why not), but they sound like excellent ideas. This is the kind of thinking we need, and I hope there's some enterprising person or company that could put these ideas into action.

Solar energy is not the only way to go for the future but it is certainly a very important way that this country must embrace to meet our energy needs far into the future and to help stop the damage we are doing to our planet. We have to succeed with these alternative sources in spite of the big oil and gas industry. We must push ahead and keep pushing or this planet will not be livable for generations to come. Everything we touch and have to eat will be dirty and grimy. Believe it, it's true.

start with Twitter, these young women did and won
Powerful support for women
http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/olympics-fourth-place-medal/lebanese-rally...

Solar energy is not the only way to go for the future but it is certainly a very important way that this country must embrace to meet our energy needs far into the future and to help stop the damage we are doing to our planet. We have to succeed with these alternative sources in spite of the big oil and gas industry. We must push ahead and keep pushing or this planet will not be livable for generations to come. Everything we touch and have to eat will be dirty and grimy. Believe it, it's true.

I just cant belive what is written above .Has the USA gone mad or what !
I myself will soon be of the Power Grid they can whisle up my cazoo.

Solar and wind are the blessing of mother nature to sustain man and all living creatures

Live with nature, not against it! Reject energy from Hell (coal, oil gas) & embrace energy from Heaven (wind, solar)

Thank-you so much for this breaking news. When a utility commissioner can come right out and say it like it is that should be a voice that EVERYONE hears and acts upon.
I protested nuclear power at the age of 18 and I cannot believe that it is still a battle even now after the leak in Japan and all the leaks before that and after! Into our oceans, our food, our land.

All of our utilities and food are owned and operated by incompetent, greedy corporations who do not care one bit for any living thing except themselves. The cancers and sickness we get from these filthy sources of energy just continue to create more and more cancers while killing the earth all in the name of $$$$!!!

After protesting the KXL a couple of weeks ago with about 12 other protestors here in my hometown, and after President Obama was handed a neutral report from the so-called KXL oversight committee that included members of Big Oil, and after he handed it over to John Kerry to make the final decision, I went home and wrote a hand written letter to John Kerry outlining similar problems with the oil industry and how hiring people to clean up what the companies' have not, hiring people to safely dig, replace and/or repair the already existing oil pipe lines throughout the nation, hiring people to inspect the oil industry at all levels, etc while hiring people to build green, sustainable earth friendly energy sources would create the jobs that all the politicians are screaming that only the KXL can do while at the same time repairing our earth and moving forward responsibly.

In a country that has been nearly completely purchased by corporations it's getting harder to convince the average citizen that we live in a free democracy and easier to see how corporations have eaten almost all that our forefathers and mothers and troops fought for...(even when the politicians were lying the troops still fought for our freedom and come home to wake-up and search for it for the rest of their lives.)

I'm going to write another letter to Kerry right now and include Commissioner Ferron's report.

It is past time too legislate that all new housing, manufacturing, and storage building have solar installed. This should consist of passive solar hot water assist and solar voltaic panels.
In the same vein we should also increase the R- value for residential buildings for walls and roofs, R-50 in walls and R-75 in the roofs. Since windows are needed the R-value there should be an R-20 at a minimum.

I am a New Jersey homeowner with a small solar PV array on my roof. When I installed it, the NJ BPU and Jersey Central Power and Light were delightfully accommodating and the BPU rep actually made the installer correct some stupid mistakes they had made that would have greatly reduced the system's production. As far as I know, they continue to be friendly to homeowners who install their own systems. There's also a big increase in junk mail from companies that want to rent your roof space for their own panels.
Having read this article on Big Power's assault on home, solar energy, I'm frankly shocked. These are supposed to be business people. It doesn't take a graduate economics degree to see that the real money in solar is in supply and maintenance of the systems. They should be buying into the factories and training their tanker truck operators in PV upkeep - but BP, I see, has discontinued their long-lived solar program (http://www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=9025019&contentId=...) but Chevron's is continuing: (http://www.chevron.com/deliveringenergy/solar/). From this tiny amount of web-searching it's clear that some energy companies do smell the coffee.

So rather than bash the entire energy industry as this article seems to do, I would suggest singling out and praising those companies that are getting on board the Sun/Wind/other-wagon.

While I'm at it, and since fossil fuel combustion is the main contributor, the term "climate change" was coined by conservatives as a kinder/gentler substitute for the more alarmist but more accurate "global warming", under the notion that change can be good. The climate is always changing. What threatens us now is not the fact of change, but the direction of that change which we are bringing about by belching carbon compounds into the atmosphere. I don't understand why so many enviro-groups have meekly adopted this watered-down term when the stakes are so very high.

Your comment is very informative and glad to know that your state is not suffering from the same issues that, as the article mentioned, many, many other states are. I am surprised though that you are shocked because many of us have been fighting this problem all of our lives. Oil, gas, nuclear pollution. Corporations own most of our country. Remember, thanks to Citizens United they are now people too...

What's all this complaining about monopolistic fossil fuel dependent public utilities versus those dad-gummed hippie solar power fanatics? You want power independance? Jeez, don't you want to maintain shareholder' guaranteed return on investment? What are you proposing to do to investors method of making easy money? Don't you want to breathe more carbon and sulphur dioxides and add a little beneficial mercury and cadmium to the daily air we breathe so we're biologically dumbed-down and compliant and we won't cause any trouble. You sound like un-American anti-predatory capitalist revolutionaries. You scare me.

Not only it is logic, but imagine how many new jobs oppenings.

Our nation was not built on GREED. Let us do what is right FOR THE PEOPLE and solar is RIGHT FOR THE PEOPLE! Every new house being built today should have a solar roof and solar should be available to the rest of us at a minimum cost. Who gives the "Utilities" the right to dominate over what WE THE PEOPLE want and we ALL want solar. I don't know one person who is not in favor of solar!!

Actually, greed has always been a major factor in building our nation.

Which is why more electric companies should be helping us get solar installed - Just think of the money they will earn on equipment and maintenance!!

I worked for SRP, the power company in Phoenix that was formed when hydro units were put in place on the river systems to take power to farmers, thus it is under the federal government jurisdiction. While AZ Public Service growth was hampered by boundaries around Phoenix that were in the SRP net, it gave explosive growth to SRP over the last 50 years.

SRP has built a large solar facility called Copper Crossing in Florence, AZ, putting power into the grid mostly for schools, etc. The 'community solar blocks' left over are available to sell to customers without having to put panels on your roof & maintain them.

This is a beginning, proof that it can be done on a large scale.

Diversification, and limiting use of fossil fuels, is vital for our future.

It is time that they come into the 21st century. The people guilty of slamming solar energy are the same people that seek to do things like fracking. At what expense, the Earth and every living thing on it including man? It is time that we take care of the mother that has taken care of us, Mother Earth!

It is time that they come into the 21st century. The people guilty of slamming solar energy are the same people that seek to do things like fracking. At what expense, the Earth and every living thing on it including man? It is time that we take care of the mother that has taken care of us, Mother Earth!

Electrical Cooperatives are owned by the people. They were started by the Federal government so rural people could get electric at a low cost. They are to by power and deliver it to the rural people. But today they act like they generate electric. They have forgotten about they are owned and are working for the people They print Country Living magazine they bash solar, wind and small power generation.

This is wrong they need to work for us the people. Not big Business and buy power from the farmer and all rural people at a fairer price

Thanks for this article. I have seen what is going on, reading about what is happening in places like Arizona and Texas. I am fully ashamed of our government, who does nothing anymore when so much could be done. But it is weak communities that it really boils down to. We are all hooked up and on autopilot, why concern ourselves? Very unfortunate. Without strong communities even the smallest local government can break the law and take people's property away for being self sustaining, and tear up food gardens illegally. We need to stop this once and for all.

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