Utilities must credit customers promptly for community solar

Originally published in the Albany Times-Union on June 26, 2023


Customers in some regions are receiving higher or less predictable bills, which can hurt the reputation of the community solar industry.

New York’s solar programs provide direct bill savings to New Yorkers. However, private utilities, responsible for delivering and billing for electricity, are withholding customer savings for a year or more, hurting families and slowing progress toward our clean-energy goals.

The electric utilities are ignoring the solar energy generated by community solar projects, and they’re failing to deliver timely or accurate billing and crediting to subscribers. Customers are left in the lurch, denied the savings they earned without a timeline for being repaid.

Community solar programs are especially beneficial to those who rent, lack conditions for on-site solar systems, or cannot invest in individual systems. In the case of residents of New York co-ops, among other community solar subscribers, utilities like Con Edison have shown blatant disregard to programs like this.

Some utilities in New York are withholding bill credits, either failing to include them on a bill entirely or withholding them for an egregious amount of time, up to two years in some cases. These billing and crediting issues lead to customers missing several months of utility bills, then receiving multiple months’ worth of credits or bills at the same time. This failure of the utilities is resulting in customers receiving higher or less predictable bills, and it can tarnish the reputation of the community solar industry.

To be clear, the inaction here is the fault of the utilities. Community solar in New York is a thriving industry, and often looked to by other states as a model program. Electricity is flowing and it is being fairly compensated through state programs. But utilities aren’t passing along the credits – and that will erode people’s faith in the system.

We’ve got to hold utilities accountable. A group of solar industry stakeholders worked together to develop a proposal that incorporates performance metrics and financial repercussions when utilities fail to deliver timely and accurate credits to customer bills.

Utilities need to be a responsible partner in the energy transition. The New York Public Service Commission now has an opportunity to create a solid new regulatory framework, with deadlines and detailed actions, to correct this issue and hold utilities accountable for their role in meeting the state’s clean-energy goals.

Lindsay Griffin is the Northeast regulatory director at Vote Solar, a national clean-energy nonprofit.

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