Energy Efficiency

Get past the myth and learn the truth about Net Metering

Net Metering Myths Debunked

“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” Isaac Newton’s aphorism was meant to describe the laws of physics, but it is equally true of human behavior. Specifically, the human tendency to resist change  — even change for the better.

The shift to renewable technologies represents a sea of change in the way we, as humans, relate to the universe itself — as an integrated part of the whole rather than a dominating force outside of nature.  No wonder renewable energy attracts such resistance. Whether it’s objection to the appearance of renewable energy infrastructures or misinformation about its efficacy, reactionary sentiments abound.

Lately, many of these anti-renewable myths have targeted the practice of net metering. Net metering refers to any billing policy that allows homeowners to sell their excess solar power back to the utility companies. Let’s examine some of these myths, and the truths behind them.

Myth #1: Net metering raises electricity rates.

Net Metering Myths DebunkedTruth: While it is true that utilities sometimes pay a premium for electricity generated from private solar panels, the assumption that this will drive up rates is simply false. To understand why, it’s important to take the whole picture into account. The biggest contributing factors to electric rate increases are volatile fossil fuel prices and grid infrastructure investment. Solar actually helps to stabilize both, thus assisting to keep rates stable. Many studies, including one commissioned by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission in 2014, indicate that net metering does not threaten overall electric rates and does not give solar owners an unfair advantage over those who do not have panels on their homes. 

Myth #2: Net metering tips the scales against minority communities.

The assumption here is that most solar panels are owned by white people, who benefit disproportionately.

Truth: It’s not solar, but coal that disproportionately affects minorities. A 2014 NAACP report indicates that 3 out of 4 African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal plant. Coal-burning power plants contribute to high rates of asthma and other respiratory illness in minority populations. No matter who owns the panels, net metering helps these communities by providing a clean power source for the grid.

Myth #3: Net metering benefits only the rich.

Truth: Actually, solar is largely a middle-class phenomenon. The vast majority of residential solar installations are purchased by households falling in the $40,000-to-$90,000-per-year income range. Net metering is one of the things that makes solar affordable for these homes.

Myth #4: Net metering violates free market principles.

Truth: In fact, it’s the utility companies that have been enjoying monopoly status. Typically, utilities are granted control of the market in a given area; in return they must submit to heavy regulation. It’s a fair enough exchange. What net metering does is give the consumer a choice whether to support the monopoly or not. Sounds like the free market at work, doesn’t it?

Myth #5: Solar panel owners are leeches on the system.

Truth: The biggest objection to net metering is the claim that solar homeowners don’t contribute to maintenance and upkeep of the grid. In reality, this idea couldn’t be farther from the truth, for two reasons:

  1. Adding private sources of solar power to the mix typically reduces costs for the utility companies because of reduced need for infrastructure, reduced line loss and other factors. It also contributes to grid resilience.
  2. Solar panel owners assume responsibility for their portion of the grid, including installation and maintenance. These are costs the utility companies don’t have to bear.

It’s important to recognize that solar power benefits society as a whole, not just specific individuals or communities. Shifting a greater portion of our electricity generation to solar helps keep our air clean and global climate change in check. It also stabilizes the electrical grid and makes us more resilient in the face of natural disaster or terrorist activity. Net metering is one of the primary factors keeping solar affordable to a majority of the population. Let’s all do our part to debunk these and other net metering myths to help maintain solar power’s viability in this country.

Author bio: Ryan McNeill is the president of Renewable Energy Corporation, a Maryland-based solar energy company dedicated to installing quality, American-made solar panels and solar energy products for homeowners. 

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