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Does rooftop solar net metering transfer wealth from the poor to the affluent?

September 30, 2013

So claims a study from the California Public Utilities Commission released last week.   Net metering is the practice wherein property owners who install rooftop solar systems are allowed to sell excess electricity back into the grid, thereby lowering their own electricity costs.   Those who install rooftop solar tend to be more affluent than the typical electricity user, thus their lowered utility bills are being subsidized by low- and middle-income users (the annual median income of net-metered homes is $91,000 vs. the state median income of $54,000).  Utilities hail the findings of the study, because the expansion of rooftop solar is reducing their annual revenues.  Solar manufacturers and installers, on the other hand, claim that the study was purposely rigged in order to protect utilities.

I personally believe that distributed, local power generation (solar, wind and other renewables) is more sustainable and makes more sense than large scale projects that are necessarily far removed from the populations centers that draw on them.   However, this problem must be worked out – a wealth transfer in the currency of utility costs is not sustainable.     There has to be a happy policy middle ground that can serve energy needs in a more equitable manner.

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