Obama Just Picked The Customer’s Side Against The Nevada Utility That’s Trying To Kill Rooftop Solar
Everything that is happening in the solar industry is happening in Nevada right now.
On the one hand, President Obama announced a slew of new incentives and financing mechanisms for renewable energy and efficiency Monday at the 8th annual Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, hosted by solar champion Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV).
But he also seemed to be taking the local utility to task during the speech. On Wednesday, Nevada’s public utility commission (PUC) will decide whether to agree with a proposal by the local utility and implement huge rate increases in solar customers that industry insiders say will completely devastate the residential market in the state.
“We see the trend lines. We see where technology is taking us. We see where consumers want to go,” Obama said Monday. “That, let’s be honest, has some fossil fuel interests pretty nervous, to the point where they are trying to fight renewable energy.”
“Americans spend eight per cent of their disposable income on all forms of energy,” David Crane told me. Crane is the C.E.O. of NRG, the country’s biggest independent power provider; the company operates more than a hundred energy-generation facilities, selling electricity to utilities that, in turn, sell it to customers. Nobody wants that eight-per-cent figure to rise, Crane said, because when energy prices go up the country tends to trip into recession. But plenty of companies, including Crane’s, would like to see a larger slice of that eight per cent. “I’m interested in electric cars, for instance, not just because of the effect on air quality but because I want to take market share away from oil,” Crane said. “It’s a brutal fight for market share.”
Power utilities now face uncertainty of a kind that traditional phone companies faced when cellular technology emerged. A few utilities welcome the challenge; others are resisting it; and the rest are waiting for someone to tell them what to do.
Three years ago, the nation’s top utility executives gathered at a Colorado resort to hear warnings about a grave new threat to operators of America’s electric grid: not superstorms or cyberattacks, but rooftop solar panels.
If demand for residential solar continued to soar, traditional utilities could soon face serious problems, from “declining retail sales” and a “loss of customers” to “potential obsolescence,” according to a presentation prepared for the group. “Industry must prepare an action plan to address the challenges,” it said.