Over 450 environmental, faith, and consumer advocacy groups on Monday urged federal regulators to reject a proposal from a secretive rightwing organization that would upend policies seen as "foundational to achieving the nation's urgently-needed clean and just energy transition."
The call comes in a letter (pdf) to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and concerns the New England Ratepayers Association's (NERA) April petition arguing for federal jurisdiction over solar net-metering policies, which are now under states' control.
Public Citizen—one of the signatories to the new letter—explained Monday:
Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar power generators for the electricity they add to the grid. It is a crucial component of rooftop solar project financing because it makes solar energy systems affordable for small businesses and families through energy credits for the solar power they generate. The NERA petition would grant FERC sole jurisdiction to govern such programs through the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act or Federal Power Act.
The alternative to net metering is gross metering. Under this scenario, as Pine Tree Watch reported last month,
utilities pay solar users a low credit for supplying solar energy to the electric grid, then charge them a higher rate—the same as what non-solar users pay—for any energy they consume. This can result in solar customers paying for electricity even if they use less than their panels produce. "
The petition also could lay the groundwork for the elimination of states' ability to promote renewable energy policies that incentivize solar.
According to Nathan Phelps, regulatory director at Vote Solar, "If this is approved, families and businesses across the country will be blindsided by this malicious affront on their good faith investments that were based on state policies that have been protected by FERC for the past 20 years."
The fact that the attack on clean energy comes in the midst of both a climate emergency and economic crisis—as well as longstanding and unresolved environmental injustices—should compel FERC to reject the petitions, the groups argue.
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From their letter:
State net metering policies and distributed solar systems are foundational to achieving the nation's urgently-needed clean and just energy transition—to address historical environmental injustices, fight the climate emergency, and ensure long-term resilience. Families classified as low-wealth and Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the pollution from centralized dirty fossil power and the ravage of climate disaster. As we tackle the climate emergency and make the urgently-needed energy system reforms, it is critical that the new energy paradigm not only be powered by clean and renewable energy, but also pioneer electricity structures that build community resilience and distribute wealth, power, and decision-making about energy choices equitably. Solar is vital to that future, delivering benefits of equitable community development, local job generation, customer choice, and the energy security and resilience of communities in the long-term. As millions across the country face the threat of electricity shut-offs due to coronavirus-precipitated job losses, it is more apparent than ever that decentralized solar systems can help families generate their own power and decrease dependence on dirty centralized generation to weather such crises, only sure to rise in the face of growing wealth inequality and increasing climate impacts.
"The climate and economic crises are fundamentally linked," Shiva Patel, an energy justice campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
"Our energy future must not only be powered by clean and renewable energy but have systems that address racial and economic justice through centering community control, ownership, and resilience," she continued.
NERA's petition had already sparked concern from two dozen federal lawmakers, who wrote in a letter to FERC sent last month, "States have engaged in deliberate, thoughtful processes to develop and implement net metering laws, which has led to the development of a renewable energy industry employing more than 800,000 workers nationwide."
The lawmakers, whose ranks include Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), also suggested NERA's shadowy membership should raise eybrows.
"It is also unclear based on public information whether this group actually represents any New England interests—consumer or corporate—and if it does, it is unclear why a group that advocates for ratepayers in New England is asking FERC for a sweeping order preempting net metering nationwide," they wrote.
“At a time when states need to ensure low-cost and reliable energy transactions for consumers," the letter continued, "FERC should not upend 45 existing state policies—and certainly not at the behest of a group funded by 12 anonymous donors whose interests are unknown to FERC or the public."