The words “solar energy” elicit reactions on both sides of the aisle here in Louisiana. No side has all the answers. However, Louisianans need only look to Nevada as an example of what not to do.
Last month, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission sided with the utilities and against solar, triggering thousands in solar job losses and causing citizens’ utilities bills to increase. The commission did this by taking one tiny step forward and two large steps backward. The commission took a tiny step forward by raising the solar “cap,” which is the overall amount of solar energy that citizens may be reimbursed for when citizens push solar energy onto the grid from their rooftop solar systems. But the commission took two large steps backward: First, it slashed by a whopping 75 percent the amount citizens are credited for solar energy that citizens send back to the electricity grid. Second, it forced excessive charges onto citizens who create energy with rooftop solar.
The economic consequences are staggering. Nevada — a state ranking second highest in unemployment but with 6,000 solar jobs at the time — felt immediate job losses. Some of the country’s top solar providers were forced to leave the state, laying off their workforce in the process. Many in-state solar companies were forced to do the same. Nevada’s former solar employees include dozens of now unemployed veterans.
Utilities in Nevada made the same arguments that utilities in Louisiana are now making, all relating to net metering, the policy that allows citizens to sell excess energy produced with rooftop solar systems. The Louisiana utilities say our net metering policy is not fair for utilities. But what could be fairer than a policy that allows customers to take control over their own power bills by powering their own homes and receiving a retail-price credit for excess energy they send to the grid?
Instead, utilities want to pay solar customers lower wholesale rates for the clean, local energy they provide to utilities. In short, utilities want to sell power to citizens at high rates, but when utilities buy power from citizens, the utilities want to pay citizens much lower rates.
Net metering is working in 43 other states across the country. South Carolina most recently enacted net metering and is seeing well-paying, steady jobs and lower power bills.
The Louisiana Public Service Commission has difficult decisions to make. As the commissioners decide what to do about raising our solar cap and changing net metering policy, let us hope that they avoid following in the footsteps of Nevada and vote instead in favor of jobs, the economy and consumer choice.
Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré
U.S. Army, retired