This was written in response to Mr. Daryl Basset opinion article Special to ARDEMGAZ.
Independent Electricity Generation in Arkansas
Thanks to continued efforts to thwart renewable energy development in Arkansas, the way electricity is delivered to consumers is not evolving as rapidly as it is in more forward thinking states all across the country. There is little debate or discussion regarding renewable energy in Arkansas. The entrenched monopolistic electric utility cartel has spent millions on a propaganda campaign that completely distorts, dismisses, and discounts the role of renewable energy in our secure energy future.
There are many shining examples of Community Power Networks paving the way to the distributed generation frontier. States, townships, counties, parishes, cities, and neighborhoods across the country are implementing new policies and programs to give renewable energy developers a spot on the playing field. However, in Arkansas our twelve year old net-metering rules have led to less than three hundred renewable energy systems connected to the grid.
Net-metering policy was approved in the 2001 legislative session with rules and procedures promulgated at the Public Service Commission over the following year with implementation in 2002. It was in 2002 that I signed the first net-metering contract with Entergy in Arkansas. The renewable energy system was designed to create less energy than the structure would use. This downsizing was done on purpose due to one of the rules inserted by the local utility cartel. The rule stated that any excess generation at the end of a billing period would be forfeited to the utility with no credit given to the customer that created the electricity. In a later session this obstacle was lowered to have forfeiture of excess generation occur at the end of each calendar year. In the last regular legislative session the obstacle was massaged again so that now excess generation is forfeited after each April of a new year. All these minor adjustments are little solace for those with net-excess kilowatt generation. It’s what the utilities operating in Arkansas would allow.
The net-metering bill was written so that no money would change hands between the renewable energy system owner and the electric utility. As a customer with a net-metering facility, I create electricity from solar electric panels on my roof. If my facility consumes the electricity I avoid buying kilowatts from the utility. If the electricity generation is in excess of what I need, it goes back to the utility for credit against those kilowatts I need at night or when the sun is not shining. At the end of each billing period the amount of kW’s I received from the utility is offset by the amount of kW’s I sent back for credit.
There is a gulf created by the electric utilities who have made sure that rooftop solar electric systems and other renewable energy technologies have little chance of succeeding in Arkansas. If the utility cartel in Arkansas really cared about the wellbeing of their customers they would not have lobbied using terminology like, “We’re going to kill your bill.” Renewable energy proponents have offered sustainable policy solutions in the 2009, 2011 and 2013 legislative sessions. Instead of embracing a workable model for their continued existence, one in which they would not loose sales, they have instead pulled out sufficient cash from the rate payers to fund a propaganda campaign built on outdated numbers and fallacies aimed at keeping their existing control. By entering into long-term purchase agreements for the total generation from the renewable energy system instead of trading kilowatt hours back and forth like we have with net-metering, it would only mean sharing generation capability with independent system owners. The Arkansas Renewable Energy Association is one of those groups working tirelessly to help raise the top-of-mind awareness of fellow Arkansans to think more about how their electricity is generated. Once there is an understanding of the real numbers associated with the democratization of energy generation, there is the realization that we should be promoting this for diversification reasons alone.
Solar energy generated by rooftop solar panels is something that most Americans can access. Whether their existing rooftop is suitable for a solar electric system is subject to review. This should come as no surprise given the falling costs of solar over the last few years. There is little reason to insert a leasing component into a plan that should end with system ownership being retained by the person wanting a little energy independence and protection from future electricity price increases. Rooftop solar system owners continue to pay for the privilege of being connected to the grid through a monthly customer charge that includes a state sales tax. What the utility is getting out of the roof mounted solar electric systems are kilowatt hours being created at numerous locations around the state. Electricity is virtually invisible and flows like water. There are no line losses since excess generation flows to the next consuming customer, not back to the substation and then out again. Distributed generation from rooftop solar electric systems requires no new utility owned infrastructure. It lightens the load on the transmission lines, allowing existing equipment to continue in service longer, reducing stress on the lines, and delaying the need for additional grid infrastructure improvements. Rooftop solar electric systems generate electricity during the time of day when it is needed most. Do you know anyone paying peak demand charges? Imagine the utility trading kilowatt hours from a net-metering facility at 1:30 in the afternoon for one rate then selling that electricity at peak pricing levels with another customer. It’s already in their favor. That is what they would allow.
If Arkansas wants to diversify how our electricity is generated we should move to enact incentives to promote more renewable energy installations instead of carrying on with electric utility cartel deterrents. Owners of renewable energy systems take their own funds or, if necessary, borrow funds to invest, insure, upkeep, and maintain their renewable energy systems. These ownership costs are not borne by other electric utility customers. In fact the benefits of rooftop solar electric systems are beneficial to all parties whether they own their own system or not. The most economical and effective policies reward renewable energy electricity production with an added Renewable Energy Payment (REP). A contract for a REP on your individually owned renewable energy system would breeze through the lending approval process. A REP stimulus would only be needed for a limited number of years. Enacting policy that puts the electric meter as the only thing between the generation and the reward, cuts out many middle men and as much of the present bureaucracy. The best policy will reward production with a sunset provision for new systems within a few years. As a matter of fact, the price of rooftop solar electric systems has never been lower. There is an old saying coined from the trench warfare waged by the utilities. “If we wait long enough to promote and reward the generation of renewable energy electricity, we won’t need any incentives. The price will drop, and rooftop solar electric systems can create electricity for less than fossil fuels.” Guess what, we’re here now! All across Arkansas, if your site is suitable for a roof top solar electric system, you can prepay all or a portion of your next thirty or more years of on-site energy needs at a lower cost than what you are paying your local electricity provider now. That, my fiends is what the utilities are afraid of.
First, the electric utilities were afraid of energy efficiency measures. They were forced to enact certain energy savings incentives, which they buried deep in the bowels of their website. This was followed by additional compelling measures to force advertising and promotion of these programs that help their customers reduce energy usage. It was a tough turn around, but there has been major progress on the energy efficiency front, too. It does not matter your energy generation fuel choice, lowering the amount of electricity used through energy efficiency upgrades will always beat creating electricity, regardless of the source. This is even true with solar where the fuel source, sun light, is free and abundant. Performing energy efficiency measures on existing structures benefit all customers regardless of income levels. As of now these programs are not widely enjoyed by the majority of Arkansans. Check with your local electric utility provider to find out more.
Any state with existing net-metering policy should absolutely focus on eliminating the artificial barriers that the electric utility cartel currently has on the books. Arkansas’ own net-metering rules need intervention. Do we have any folks in charge that care enough about it? Embracing and promoting efficient, effective, sustainable, and temporary policy incentives that reward the production of electricity from independent renewable energy systems should be enacted.
You can join Arkansas Interfaith Power & Light along with the Arkansas Renewable Energy Association for the initial meeting of interested citizens who are ready to celebrate their moment in the sun by joining a solar cooperative that will lead to getting community solar pricing, by bundling the purchase of their individual rooftop solar arrays. Meeting starts at 5:30 pm this Wednesday evening at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, 12415 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, AR 72223. Call 501.225.8398 for more information or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now that I have been in the trenches with the electric utilities off and on for eight years I start to recognize their principal proponents who always show up when things might not keep going their way. The record of the utility companies is well established. They pretty much control the Arkansas legislature and they have squashed or at least minimized all incentives to promote the adoption of renewable energy while simultaneously mounting successful efforts at protecting their little slice of heaven on earth.
The ADEQ now stands as John Q. Public’s last line of defense in protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink. If we allow the electric utilities to delay further recognition of the incredibly harmful impact that we already endure as a result of coal fired electric generating facilities, we have no one else to blame but our own ignorance of the situation. The electric utilities we must hope are scared that the tide is starting to turn and the subject they would rather not discuss has finally been exposed. The hymn of the electric utilities is that they want to “protect their ratepayers.” Their successful delay tactics are simply leading to much higher electricity prices for their ratepayers in the future. Mother Nature is not going to send a monthly billing statement in the mail. The damage that our environment is experiencing is cumulative. The negative health effects are cumulative. We should not allow business as usual to continue. Positive change always has a transition period. It is time that for the ADEQ to send a signal that the tide is turning and protecting Arkansans is exactly the issue.
Our utility bill is not the only expense we incur paying for our coal fired electricity. Inaction to protect our air and water quality will be the biggest missed opportunity, and one that we will have a hard time explaining to our children.
If you would like your voice heard on this issue please write to:
Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, 5301 Northshore Drive, North Little Rock, AR 72118-5317
Downwind from White Bluff
PS: I’ll be in Conway tonight pushing for consideration to make the 2010 Conway Ecofest completley solar powered.