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Are Solar-Powered Homes Jacking Up Everyone Else's Electric Bills?

Are Solar Powered Homes Jacking Up Everyone Else s Electric Bills Mother Jones


Solar power is having a major moment. It's growing faster than any other energy source—in 2014, a new system was installed in the United States every three minutes—while the price of a typical panel has dropped 63 percent since 2010. By 2016, experts predict that solar will be as cheap or cheaper than conventional electricity in most states. But solar companies are warning that the boom could soon end, if utilities and some Republican state lawmakers have their way.

Power companies' beef with solar boils down to a clever payment system that was largely responsible for bringing about the solar boom in the first place—a practice known as net metering. Most solar homes aren't actually "off the grid": They stay connected to transmission lines, using regular power when their panels aren't operating (like at night). But they also feed electricity into the grid when they produce more than they can use.

Sounds great, right? Not really, say the power companies. They pay solar homeowners for their excess kilowatts—but argue homeowners aren't paying their fair share for grid maintenance. That has utilities in revolt, and the fight has reached a fever pitch in Northern California, where the state's largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, serves more residential solar homes than any other.

"Under current utility pricing schemes, a poor family of four in California's AC-dependent Central Valley can end up paying rates far above the national average—while a Google-employed bachelor millionaire gets a bargain."

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So why not make solar people pay their fair share of grid maintenance?

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