Profit-Hungry Utilities Fail to Stifle Solar Energy

Good news for the electric bills of millions of Americans: A federal agency protected one of the country’s most important solar energy incentives

Workers install solar panels.
Workers install a solar panel. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

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To stave off the worst impacts of the climate crisis, we must change where our energy comes from. Switching from energy generated by fossil fuels like gas, coal, and oil to renewable sources like solar and wind can drastically reduce the heat-trapping carbon emissions warming our planet. Profit-driven fossil fuel companies are fighting to keep us locked in to using dirty energy, but Earthjustice is using the power of the law to expand and defend the future of solar generation across the U.S. This summer, we worked with our partners to preserve one of the country’s most important incentives for solar energy.

Earlier this year, utilities that want to keep a monopoly on the energy market tried to make it harder for homeowners and small businesses to generate solar energy. Under the cover of COVID, a secretive group tied to these utilities petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to take away our states’ ability to control something very important that most of us have never heard of: net metering.

When your solar energy system — most commonly through rooftop solar panels — generates more electricity than you use, the extra electricity goes out through your electric meter to your neighbors. All of the clean energy from your solar panels offsets your utility bills while adding clean energy and resilience to the grid in your community. This is net metering, and it ensures that solar owners receive fair credit for the solar energy they produce but do not use themselves. It helps make rooftop solar a financial benefit for millions of families and businesses across the country. More than 49 states and territories use this system, and it has been running successfully for nearly 40 years.

Earthjustice and our partners worked to prevent this damaging attack on the future of solar energy from gaining traction at FERC. Solar United Neighbors and Vote Solar submitted over 20,000 public comments in support of saving net metering. Those comments included stories like this one demonstrating why protecting this system is so important:

“I am a low-income homeowner who used a portion of my retirement money to install solar panels on my home in an effort to do my part to mitigate the disastrous effects of climate change…. To lose net-metering, would be financially devastating to me. And solar owners are not the only ones saving with local solar,” wrote Robin Migalla, Elgin, IL.

In late July, FERC voted to kill the monopoly utilities’ petition, preventing these effects that would have impacted millions of people across the country. Thanks to this decision:

  • Approximately 2.2 million homes and 100,000 other customers, across 49 states, will not see increased electric bills due to the loss of net metering.
  • If you don’t yet have solar, your ability to go solar in the future will not be as limited with net metering intact.
  • If you’re a solar installer, you will not see a loss of jobs or revenue. 

FERC’s dismissal of this petition not only protects today’s solar generation by individuals across the country but the future growth of small-scale solar energy too.

As a communications strategist, Miranda covers Earthjustice’s Mid-Pacific and California regional offices. She has campaigned to defend public water resources in North America and is a graduate of the Master’s in Global Studies program at the University of California, Santa Barbara where her research focused on climate change.

Earthjustice’s Clean Energy Program uses the power of the law and the strength of partnership to accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy.