The Little War on Rooftop Solar


These are my solar panels. There are many like them, but these are mine.

These are my solar panels. There are many like them, but these are mine.

By now–and despite anti-science propaganda from politicians bought off by big oil–most Americans know the score about climate change. Few Americans are fooled any longer and understand that as we use more fossil fuels, we are changing our atmosphere in ways that will impact future generations. Climate researchers point to a future of rising sea levels and less predictable weather systems caused by human activity.

We know now that we, as a culture and indeed as a species, literally cannot adopt clean energy fast enough to offset some of these negative consequences.

Knowing this makes it completely shocking and appalling that electric utilities around the country are actually trying to disincentivize solar power through extra fees on customers with rooftop solar panels.

It should surprise no one that these measures can all be traced back to dollars from the big oil oligarchs the Koch brothers–dirty money propping up dirty energy.

Now these backward-thinking regulations have come to my home town: the Sun City.

El Paso, Texas should be awash in solar energy. With so few days of cloud cover throughout the year, it’s an ideal climate for distributed solar power.

Yet now the El Paso Electric Company has requested a rate change to charge rooftop solar customers an extra fee and has even launched a series of commercials trying to sell the public on their twisted logic.

According to EP Electric, the problem is that rooftop solar customers still use the grid on cloudy days and at night, so the cost of maintaining that grid needs to be represented on their bills.

It’s an argument presented by a reasonable sounding narrator and, in the TV spots, even has a cute little graphic of dollars being distributed equitably between houses–one with and one without solar panels.

But it’s an absurd argument with no basis in reality.

All customers already pay to support the grid–based on how much they use it.

By this faulty logic, EP Electric should look at customers with small houses who need less energy to cool and bill them extra.

According to this bizarre reasoning, when customers invest in energy efficient appliances or energy saving window panes, they should be charged extra because those energy saving measures mean they’re no longer “supporting the grid.”

Rooftop solar panels are no different from any other energy-saving measure in this regard and trying to charge these customers more is worse than a shameless attempt to grab cash from a minority segment of the customer base–it’s actually part of a sinister political agenda to undermine clean energy.

Despite the ad campaign’s implications, rooftop solar customers are not vampires unfairly taxing the electric grid. Quite the contrary.

When consumption is at its highest–during the summer when every house in this city has the A/C on full blast–rooftop solar customers provide an important service, easing the burden of an expanding power grid and preventing brown-outs. In fact, some customers even produce surplus energy, feeding into the grid and alleviating the draw off the main grid from their neighbors.

Let me be clear here. This is not about the money for me. I am a life-long supporter of clean energy and have always put my money where my mouth is. At one time El Paso Electric had a program where customers could help subsidize expansions in regional wind and solar power. For years, I voluntarily paid into this account to help develop this important infrastructure.

No, this isn’t about the money for me.

This is about principle. El Paso Electric should be doing everything possible to encourage rooftop solar adoption, not punish customers with unfair surcharges that reduce the value of the investments they made in the best interests of our community.

It’s a dirty game El Paso Electric is playing and every customer–rooftop solar or not–should rebuke this disgusting step in the wrong direction.