Conflicts between the use of alternative energy technologies such as solar and the status quo of fossil fuel based utility companies is nothing new, but was less of an issue when the infrastructure of the former was so costly few people could afford the investments required. But more efficient designs and lower production costs have made the panels and system more accessable to more people, enough so that utility executives are pushing for legislation that will stem the tide by mounting surcharges and other disincentives.
“The utilities are fighting tooth and nail,” said Scott Peterson, director of the Checks and Balances Project, a Virginia nonprofit that investigates lobbyists’ ties to regulatory agencies. Peterson, who has tracked the industry’s two-year legislative fight, said the pivot to public utility commissions moves the battle to friendlier terrain for utilities. The commissions, usually made up of political appointees, “have enormous power, and no one really watches them,” Peterson said.
Industry officials say they support their customers’ right to generate electricity on their own property, but they say rooftop solar’s new popularity is creating a serious cost imbalance. While homeowners with solar panels usually see dramatic reductions in their electric bills, they still rely on the grid for electricity at night and on cloudy days. The utility collects less revenue, even though the infrastructure costs — from expensive power plants to transmission lines and maintenance crews — remain the same.
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