Our Turn: State must lift the cap on rooftop solar

Last modified: 12/10/2015 3:02:48 AM
As New Hampshire braces for the winter cold, the state must prepare for meeting residents’ electricity and heating needs.

For example, recent reports indicate an anticipated strain on natural gas pipelines. With more natural gas contracted for heating homes and businesses, less remains for electricity, increasing the potential for blackouts during cold spells. Fortunately, New Hampshire has a fast-growing local energy source that can provide power when electricity and heating demand is highest: rooftop solar.

Rooftop solar provides homegrown power during those times when we need it most, and when high demand makes conventional power more expensive. And, thanks to new financing options such as solar leasing, New Hampshire residents can put solar on their roofs without the high upfront costs – you don’t have to invest money to purchase the panels. Rather, you pay a rate for the solar power that’s less than the rate you pay your utility company.

So, the good news is we have a solution to in-state electricity needs that is clean, affordable and growing quickly. The bad news is that New Hampshire currently has an arbitrary cap on rooftop solar. It’s a cap on a critical policy called net metering that gives solar customers full credit for the excess energy they put back on the grid. Utilities sell this clean power to homes and businesses nearby, which is even more critical during times of peak demand, such as cold spells. Legislators will discuss net metering during the upcoming session, and it’s critical to New Hampshire’s energy future that they lift the cap.

Rooftop solar not only helps address strains on gas pipelines, but also creates jobs, delivers economic growth and provides a financial benefit to all New Hampshire residents. This state already has hundreds of solar workers, and companies are actively hiring. If we cap net metering, we cap job growth and jeopardize existing jobs. With jobs and installations come continued investment in the state’s economy.

What’s more, all of the most recent independent studies show that solar net metering is a financial benefit to all ratepayers. In Nevada, for example, rooftop solar will deliver $36 million in benefits to all Nevadans – not just those with solar. We need to embrace these benefits, not limit them.

Capping net metering also means stopping solar growth just as it’s becoming available to customers of all incomes. A recent report from California found that as solar deployment has expanded statewide, an increasing percentage of installations within that time frame are benefiting low- and middle-income median ZIP codes, with a decreasing fraction of installations in upper-income ZIP codes. We now have a local resource at our fingertips that all customers can afford, and that does not require expensive investment in massive energy infrastructure.

Despite these benefits, some skeptics try to paint solar in a negative light by dwelling on the limited incentives the industry receives. The full picture is that all energy industries receive government subsidies. Fossil fuels have billions of dollars in permanent subsidies entrenched in the tax code. Over the past six decades, fossil fuels and nuclear power have received eight times the subsidies of renewable energy.

We must ask ourselves what supply sources best achieve our economic and environmental goals. Solar is nonpolluting, and its rapid development stands to benefit all electric customers. For example, it reduces both the need for new capacity during peak times – the most expensive generation – and the need for expensive new transmission and distribution. Plus, it’s an in-state job creator.

As the cold sets in this winter season, let’s keep rooftop solar working for New Hampshire and lift the net metering cap.



(Bob Backus is a Manchester attorney and a Democratic state representative. Susan Glick is a native of New Hampshire and works in public policy for rooftop solar company Sunrun.)




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