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Published in News and Citizen 8-19-14

Making Solar Work

     Here’s a thought: maybe it is possible to get utilities to appreciate home or business installed electric generation as much as greenies, environmentalists and evidently our Legislature does. As things stand, our Legislature has, in a way, declared war on our small utilities, it has said it MUST hookup and increasing large percentage of high cost renewable power producers to the system, thus making it law that all its customers MUST pay for the privilege of using renewable power. The policy may be popular with the public, but are they thinking of the end result? Do we yet know the final cost of this policy?
     OK, solar generated electricity does work, that’s the point. Arguably a grid hook-up system home or business system works best, because the home solar producer doesn’t have to invest in all the equipment to provide backup electricity when demand is high or the sun doesn’t shine. The problem Vermont has already discovered is that though this encourages solar development, it has it problems at the utilities who must provide and maintain the distribution system and backup power while they make, at most, a very limited amount of profit  – perhaps none, after it is all figured out.
     I think that as the percentage rises of utility customers that contribute renewable power to the grid, it is clear that the utility must find a way to make money from renewable producers. They currently buy the excess solar power  from producers at a higher rate than they pay for most of their electricity. This introductory period of high payment for elecricity will have to end. The idea was promoted in order to encourage solar (and other) electric production and it has done its job. Now it is time to pay home solar producers no more than the going rate for their power.
Sure this will mean it takes more years to pay off solar and other systems with savings, but it means there will be no cut off number of accepting new grid-linked producers to a utility. If there is no cost, and perhaps a slight profit in having solar customers, why limit them?
     It may be time to admit that solar has been encouraged enough by government and can now pay its way.