Utilities are waging war on renewables, and solar power stands at the very center of this it.
Electric utility companies in many parts of the country have sought to discourage customers from using solar power for homes.
These efforts are becoming increasingly widespread as photovoltaic equipment prices continue to drop due to the solar boom.
Some utilities oppose renewable energy by charging monthly fees of $10 – $50 for grid-tied solar power systems.
Others simply impose fixed monthly fees on all customers, or try to eliminate credits for homeowners who transmit extra power to the grid.
The bottom line is that utilities find solar and other renewables disruptive, and there are several reasons why.
Most utilities are “for-profit” businesses, and many of them have stockholders who want substantial returns on their investments. When customers produce a portion of the solar power they consume, this results in less revenue.
Some property owners choose off-the-grid systems which allow them to cancel their utility accounts altogether. Power company executives worry that this could eventually become a widespread trend, and many strongly want to discourage the use of home solar equipment before falling prices or technological advances make it even more desirable.
Another concern for the utility industry is that decreases in revenue don’t come with equivalent reductions in costs.
They still need to maintain the same infrastructure, such as power plants, electric lines and offices. While this is a legitimate concern, it’s also true that these companies have largely overlooked the extra energy that home photovoltaics add to the grid through net metering, and they continue to campaign against the spread of solar power.
Home solar power systems and wind turbine installations has remained quite rare until relatively recently.
In most places, electric utilities simply were not accustomed to having any real competition as few people preferred the noise and hassles they would endure by producing all of their electricity with gas generators.
But today, falling equipment prices are making utilities fearful of losing their virtual monopoly on power production.
Some executives naturally believe that this puts their entire business model at risk, and utility companies aren’t well-equipped to adapt to such dramatic changes. They have built extensive infrastructure that needs regular maintenance, and complex state regulations limit their ability to adopt new policies.
They also do not want to experience the same problems that phone companies currently face; having to maintain countless lines and facilities even as numerous customers switch to cellphones or VoIP.
Reliability has therefore now, unfortunately, become a real challenge to the existing grid’s infrastructure. This is mainly due to its age, and some parts of the grid are older than 100 years!
Roughly 70% of the current power lines and transformers have been in use for over 25 years, and more than 60% of the existing circuit breakers connected to the grid are older than 30 years.
However, solar panel owners find it highly unfair that they should be harshly penalized as a result.
Like many large corporations, utilities want to use the same processes to bill and serve every customer. This is often considered more important than protecting the environment.
When they accommodate solar power users, it can add a few extra tasks and related costs.
For example, utilities in certain regions need to send check payments to some clients who produce more power than they buy. It also takes some time to set up net metering accounts and handle inquiries about using solar power.
Electric utility businesses simply want to remain in full control of energy production and distribution, which is why they oppose renewables in certain areas.
To some extent, it is a reasonable stance. They want to optimize power plants to produce different amounts of electricity, depending on what the grid needs at specific times.
On the other hand, utilities also want control because it ensures that people will always be funding the distribution system and paying them for all of the electricity.
The bottom line is that most utilities hate small photovoltaic energy systems because they result in less revenue for these companies, and there remains a fight over who will profit from solar.
Panel owners, installers, environmentalists and some legislators have come together to oppose anti-solar policies that prioritize money over self-reliance and environmental protection. Utilities have gained government approval for new fees in some states, but solar supporters continue to thwart their efforts in several other parts of the country.
Eventually utilities will not be able to compete with actual solar power cost, and they will have no choice to either admit defeat, or die trying.