Support homegrown solar energy this session

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Last week the General Assembly advanced a flawed bill that would put Connecticut’s growing solar industry on ice. While Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s bill aims to increase clean energy in Connecticut, it undermines the ability of residents and small businesses to contribute to a more renewable future.

Senate Bill 9 eliminates “net metering,” a simple policy that pays solar households for the excess electricity they share with their neighbors. Thirty-eight states, including Connecticut, provide net metering to consumers who install rooftop solar. Nearly 25,000 Connecticut residents have gone solar. Instead of carefully evaluating the value of home solar energy, S.B. 9 hastily discards net metering and replaces it with with two complicated, untested mechanisms. One option would even prohibit customers from using the solar energy they create on their own rooftops.

Lawmakers from both parties are wary of S.B. 9’s deep flaws. They are rightly concerned that it will yield painful job losses and limit their constituents’ access to clean energy. Just look at the mistakes of other states like Nevada and Maine, which abruptly ended net metering and paid for it dearly.

The ill-informed decision to terminate net metering in Nevada in 2015 brought its solar market to a standstill. Thousands of solar jobs were lost. After a massive popular backlash, lawmakers reinstated net metering last year, and Nevada’s solar market is thriving again.

Maine faces a similar situation over Gov. Paul LePage’s agency’s controversial decision to end net metering. Republican and Democratic lawmakers worked together for two years to reinstate net metering. The Senate voted to override the governor, but the House failed to by two votes. The issue remains highly contentious, and voters will have their chance to weigh in at the ballot box in November.

Let’s not repeat those mistakes in Connecticut. Instead, lawmakers and the governor should empower their constituents to go solar and use it as a foundation for a more resilient and clean energy system. People now have a say in how energy is produced and used, and by choosing home solar plus batteries,  individuals can make the entire system cleaner, more affordable and more reliable for everyone. Solar customers in neighboring states like Massachusetts, which offers net metering to residential customers, along with incentives for home batteries, can store their solar power and use it when the grid goes down.

When the next Nor’Easter hits, this technology can keep essential appliances like refrigerators, garage doors, and phone chargers running during power outages. Before long, states with pathways towards home solar and batteries will be able to aggregate thousands of homes with solar and battery storage to make our electricity system more reliable and less costly for everyone. We can build a decentralized, local energy future instead of over-building expensive, centralized power plants and transmission lines that may not be needed in a decade, and leaving ratepayers holding the bag.

When we consider these opportunities, the benefits of home solar and net metering far outweigh the costs. A recent study by the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that, by 2030, the cost increase to customers due to the ongoing utility infrastructure spending binge is likely to increase everyone’s energy prices roughly twenty times more than solar net metering. So before throwing out a tried-and-true method of supporting home-grown renewables on the basis of cost, legislators should ask: compared to what costs?

And let’s not forget, home solar creates good-paying local jobs in Connecticut. Net metering has fueled a vibrant solar industry in Connecticut, which now employs 2,200 people. Jobs installing solar panels can’t be automated or exported. It doesn’t make sense for Connecticut to buy out-of-state power — creating jobs elsewhere — when its own solar businesses are ready to work.

For lawmakers looking to support clean energy, local economic growth and a healthier environment, there could hardly be a better option. People across Connecticut are clamoring for more clean energy. Gov. Malloy and legislative leaders are right to reach for a more renewable future, but eliminating a key policy that empowers individuals to contribute to that future is not the right path forward. The legislature should retain net metering and avoid hasty decisions that could destroy thousands of solar jobs.

Anne Hoskins is chief policy officer at Sunrun, a residential solar company serving Connecticut consumers. She is a former state energy regulator and utility executive. She also served as a visiting research scholar at Princeton University’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.


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