More Studies Show Net Metering is a Net Benefit


Nevadans are not just getting bludgeoned by triple-digit temperatures this summer. They are also getting pummeled by a misleading anti-solar ad and PR campaign from NV Energy.

Installing solar power on the rooftop

The campaign’s goal is to uphold a “bait and switch” change to the state’s net metering policy that decimated the solar industry in Nevada late last year. The situation in Nevada is particularly bad for solar customers, but it’s certainly not the only state where we’re seeing these same utility arguments being levied by utilities looking to put their profit before customers’ rights and curtail solar progress.  In fact, utility claims about solar customers’ cost to the energy system have become the utility playbook of choice all across the country.

It’s difficult for us on the outside to combat these accusations. Utilities enjoy privileged access to customer data and have long been a trusted source of grid analysis for Commissions.

The good news is that the data is on our side.  There is a growing body of third-party evidence that in most cases, solar customers in fact add net value to our grid.  Last week, two important studies directly challenged the old cost-shift argument coming from utilities.

The Brookings Institute issued an analysis of the existing national literature on costs and benefits of net metering, one of the most important policies for empowering customers to go solar:

“According to our research, multiple analyses in multiple states around the country are in fact concluding that net metering is a net benefit for the grid and non-solar using customers — not a net cost,” said Mark Muro, a senior fellow and policy director for the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. The Brookings Institution found that, “whether conducted by PUCs, national labs, or academics—that the economic benefits of net metering actually outweigh the costs and impose no significant cost increase for non-solar customers. Far from a net cost, net metering is in most cases a net benefit—for the utility and for non-solar rate-payers.”  The review points to state-commissioned studies from Vermont, Mississippi( PDF), Minnesota (PDF), Maine and even Nevada that suggest net metering results in net benefits for all energy customers.

The Brooking Institution paper came out just days before SolarCity and NRDC released their own peer-reviewed report examining the benefits of rooftop solar.  The University of Nevada Las Vegas Greenspun College of Urban Affairs hosted a standing-room-only panel to discuss the report, with participation from energy experts, regulators and business leaders.  The report concludes that rooftop solar provides a net benefit of $7 million to $14 million per year to all Nevadans whether they have solar or not. The higher $14 million figure includes what the study says are conservative estimates for environmental and health-related benefits.  The report notes that the Nevada Public Utilities Commission in 2015 identified 11 categories of benefits and costs that should be evaluated to assess the impact of net metering. But the new tariff that took effect Jan. 1 considered only two categories – energy and energy losses – because of insufficient data or time to evaluate the others.

“This study confirms what Nevadans already intuitively know: the thousands of rooftop solar systems across the state benefit all Nevadans, and the state should have policies which encourage the deployment of more distributed energy,” said Jon Wellinghoff, SolarCity’s chief policy officer.  Wellinghoff, the former chairman of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), encouraged Nevada policymakers “to consider the potential of distributed energy resources to build a smarter, more resilient grid to power our economy with affordable clean energy.”  We couldn’t agree more.

At the end of the day, judging rooftop solar by grid costs alone misses the point. Solar is about cleaner air, healthier families and hope in the fight against climate change. It’s about consumer choice and a modern approach to energy. It’s about building a new energy economy that’s strong enough to lift all. It’s about so much more than grid costs, but it sure is good to know that even on that point, the facts are on solar’s side.


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