Is Solar “Fair” ?

hand reach the sun concept renewable, alternative solar energy,As a board member of the Friendship Community Group, I’ve been helping to lead the Solarize Friendship – Highland Park – Morningside effort in collaboration with Solarize Allegheny. Several people have asked whether solar is actually “fair” to all the consumers who do not deploy solar. The thinking goes that when someone deploys renewable energy locally, they no longer pay a utility their fair share for maintaining the grid; that cost then gets passed on to all other consumers who have to pay more. Compounding this effect, the folks who have actually been deploying renewable energy (solar, wind, and geothermal) tend to live at the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum, which means the extra burden of maintaining the grid falls on those least able to afford it.

At the moment, I have three replies to that opinion, but I’d love to hear more from you.

  1. I submit that the one singular answer here is: the utilities/grid operators need a new business model that allows them to operate in a different context. It’s a policy and economics question, not a generation question. The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) (of which I am a big fan for their serious, evidence-based approach to issues) recently published two articles that both speak to this point: “Is Peak Electricity Price Coming?” and “The Customer-Centric Electricity Grid.” Both articles make the point that, yes, we do need to consider the impact of renewables on the grid; the grid is important; renewable energy is important; both will exist throughout the foreseeable future; and we need a new and better business model to support the grid as more renewables are deployed.
  2. We need to consider the full cost of deploying any energy source. I have not seen the perfect apples to apples comparison of solar vs. coal vs, gas vs. hydro vs. stationary bike pedaling (maybe in your next report, RMI?), but PennFuture recently published an exhaustive, eye-opening report documenting the subsidies to the fossil fuel industry in Pennsylvania. You can read that report here.
  3. We need to provide more opportunities for folks at all points on the economic spectrum to take advantage of renewable energy, regardless of where they live or how much capital they can invest. Community solar (and other forms of local community energy/water/transportation) initiatives must be both allowed and supported. The White House took steps in this direction just this week. Seattle’s done it. Minnesota has done it. It does not necessarily require additional funding – just legislation to allow it to happen. What say you, Pennsylvania? Email me your thoughts and/or call your state representative directly and tell them your ideas and opinions.

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