Case Study 1: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Fossil fuel industry-tied group the New England Ratepayers’ Association (NERA) filed a petition with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 2020 arguing that solar customer sales of electricity back to utilities should be considered wholesale sales under FERC’s jurisdiction, and that states thus do not have the legal right to impose net metering policies and payment rates. In the face of strong public and state government opposition to the petition, FERC dismissed it in July 2020, saying NERA did not prove any harm, but did not explicitly rule out any FERC jurisdiction over solar customer sales back to the grid.
Case Study 2: Ohio
In Ohio, utilities have frequently attacked rooftop and utility-scale solar expansion. Former state subsidiaries of mega-utility FirstEnergy allegedly engaged in a massive $61 million bribery and influence campaign that secured the passage of a 2019 law removing state incentives for further renewable energy development and charging ratepayers to bail out uncompetitive coal and nuclear power plants. Despite criminal charges against key players, including the ex-speaker of the State House of Representatives, the anti-solar law remains on the books in 2021.
Case Study 3: Florida
Florida’s three investor-owned utilities (IOUs) – Florida Power & Light (FPL), Duke Energy and Tampa Electric Company – have engaged in aggressive anti-solar tactics that have kept solar power producing just 3 percent of all electricity in the Sunshine State. These tactics include donating to the campaigns of state political figures and parties, employing an army of lobbyists, funding a deceptive 2016 anti-solar ballot initiative (rejected by voters) that would have inserted language imposing barriers to rooftop solar into the state constitution, and unsuccessfully pressuring the state Public Service Commission (PSC) in September 2020 to roll back net metering rules.
Case Study 4: Illinois
In Illinois, utility Ameren fought fiercely to replace net metering with lower payments to solar owners. A 2017 law gave rooftop solar customers full net metering benefits until solar generation reached 5 percent of utility peak demand. In October 2020, the utility said it had reached the 5 percent solar threshold and would switch to smaller rebates. In December 2020, the state regulator showed Ameren’s calculations were wrong and ordered it to restore full net metering payments. The regulator and solar advocates calculated that Illinois is unlikely to reach the 5 percent solar level before 2023, but the utility continues pushing to replace net metering with lower payments as soon as possible.
Case Study 5: California
California’s major IOUs – Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SoCal Edison) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) – are pushing for dramatic changes in the net metering policies that have helped the state become the nation’s leader in rooftop solar adoption. The utilities’ proposal would create the nation’s highest fixed charges for solar customers while slashing net metering payments. The changes would severely hamper the state’s solar market at a moment when the state must accelerate clean energy deployment to meet its climate and energy goals. The California Public Utilities Commission is expected to rule on the future of net metering in the state near the end of 2021.
Case Study 6: Kansas
Kansas utilities have opposed solar power intensely for years. Westar Energy and Kansas City Power & Light, which merged in 2018 to form Evergy – plus Empire District Electric, the third IOU in the state – made campaign contributions and lobbied for elimination of state net metering in 2014. The utilities failed to get the state to scrap net metering completely, but legislators did cut the policy’s benefits to solar owners. Evergy kept up its attacks by imposing a demand fee in 2018 on residential solar owners – sometimes over $100 monthly – which deterred new solar customers. The fee was approved by the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC), the state regulator, but the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in April 2020 that the utilities and the regulator had engaged in illegal price discrimination against solar customers and remanded the issue back to KCC. Evergy kept the charge intact until the KCC unanimously ruled on February 25, 2021 against the demand fee in Evergy’s central territory, as well as a backup Evergy proposal for a minimum charge for all ratepayers. Evergy’s solar customers in other parts of the state, however, are still paying the demand fee.
Case Study 7: South Carolina
In May 2019, South Carolina enacted a new pro-solar law which lifted the state cap on net metering, ensured full compensation for solar power for two years, and created a customer bill of rights. In December 2020, however, state utility Dominion Energy South Carolina sought to raise costs and uncertainty for solar owners, proposing new fees and charges that in total would cost the average solar owner $750 annually. Solar advocates said the proposed changes would hamper the growth of solar power in the state, in conflict with the intent of the 2019 law. The state Public Service Commission held a March 23 hearing where nearly all attendees opposed the Dominion proposal, and rejected Dominion’s proposal in an April ruling.