U.S. Net Metering Battles Curtail Growth of Rooftop Solar Market
Pushback from traditional power utilities is putting a severe crimp in the United States rooftop solar market, even though an epic battle in Nevada has led one power company to walk back its charges for existing solar customers.
Rooftop solar installations in the U.S. have grown 1,000% since 2010. But that torrid pace has fallen off to 79% in 2015, 21% this year, and an expected 0.3% in 2017 “as utilities push back against mandates to buy the electricity and shifting tax policies curb demand,” Bloomberg Markets reports.
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Bloomberg notes that the business model for rooftop solar “is under attack on several fronts”, beginning with its reliance on net metering policies that allow homeowners to sell their surplus power back to the grid. “As solar gets more popular, utilities are pushing back by attacking net metering programs in multiple states.” Falling electricity prices have had an impact. And, ironically, the U.S. Congress decision to extend a 30% Investment Tax Credit for solar meant delays for some installations.
The credit “was initially set to expire at the end of this year, but people who had been pushing ahead with projects this year to qualify were suddenly given more time,” Bloomberg explains.
But the fierce response from utilities has been the biggest barrier. In Nevada, utility regulators “unanimously approved a motion to restore retail-rate net metering for the state’s 32,000 existing solar customers” after months of legal and regulatory battles, Greentech Media reports. A court also ruled against an attempt to change net metering rates for existing customers.
“The grandfathering order will allow a pipeline of several thousand solar customers to install residential solar under the old net metering rules,” writes Greentech’s Julia Pyper. “But it does not change the rates for customers who applied for solar after December 31, 2015, nor those looking to adopt solar in the future.”
And the net metering changes were just part of a wider attack on rooftop solar. “Nevada is still a zombie market unless any of the other reforms are rolled back,” said GTM Research Senior Vice-President Shayle Kann.