California has more rooftop solar installations than any other state, and it isn’t particularly close. But the Golden State is far from the only place where the solar industry and utility companies are clashing over how much money solar customers should be allowed to save.
Officials in 24 states have recently changed or are debating changes to rate structures for solar customers, according to a report released by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center earlier this month. Many of those battles mirror the one taking place in California, where utilities like Southern California Edison say homes and businesses with solar panels need to pay more.
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There’s a reason all these battles are happening now: As rooftop solar prices fall, the industry is growing more quickly than ever. That growth has reduced planet-warming carbon emissions, but it’s also thrown the utility industry into a panic about its long-term ability to make money, clean energy advocates say.
“Utilities are playing defense in a lot of states, and seeing solar as a threat,” said Ben Inskeep, a policy analyst at the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at North Carolina State University and lead author of the report. “Distributed solar is a threat to the current utility business model.”
Utility officials say they don’t see rooftop solar as a threat and aren’t trying to raise costs to kill the industry. Rather, they argue, they simply want homes and businesses with solar panels to pay their fair share to maintain the electric grid, so those costs aren’t unfairly dumped on non-solar customers.
“Solar customers remain connected to the power network, which provides them energy when the sun is not shining, when bad weather blocks its rays or when the home uses more power than the rooftop system produces,” Caroline Choi, Edison’s vice president for energy and environmental policy,