Chair’s Corner: Forging Smart Distributed Solar Policies in Texas: Our Work Continues

Howard 'Scot' Arey

Howard ‘Scot’ Arey
TXSES Board Chair

There is a train wreck coming for behind-the-meter distributed solar and it’s our responsibility to fix it.

Even after the positive outcome from the policy debate with the Pedernales Electric Cooperative, we are entering another phase of tough-policy whack-a-mole. This will be harder to resolve for the benefit of solar owners because it’s against the big, anonymous, corporate world of “Retail Electric Providers.”

Last week, many solar owners got a notice from Green Mountain Energy and Reliant that they were no longer offering their net-metering-like Renewable Rewards program, instead putting in place a new program. Amending a Winston Churchill quote, the incorrect perception of the new solar-buy back policy got halfway around Texas before the real facts on the Energy Facts Label could be understood for what they really are.

Here is what Green Mountain Energy (GME) policy really is: GME will no longer buy back more excess solar for credit than you buy from them. If you pulled 700kwh from the grid, then the maximum solar credit is 700kWh, even if you pushed 1,000 back to the grid. A monthly plan charge of $9.95 was also added and that drives up the average per kWh charge further. This policy is very much like many of the electric cooperatives now. The most challenging part is that the energy charge is about 20% higher than for standard non-solar plans and for many, these price gaps spoil the solar value in the near term.

This might not be popular, but the solar industry is partly responsible for this situation. A solar industry with less oversight from Texas than hairdressers receive has over-promised to homeowners. Too many cases of overbuilt solar arrays resulted in customers producing far more than they used resulting in huge credits from their retail electric providers (REPs). Retail electric providers, like GME, contend it’s a losing business model for them.

Unfortunately, this happened at the end of the legislative session and that means we face two years of REPs adjusting plans without legislative leaders being able to weigh into the benefit of solar owners. All we have are the parting words of the Governor to the all-new PUC which was in essence “make renewables pay their fair share.”  It started right away. Georgetown Utilities recently announced a $1,000 facility study fee and a $450 “Installation and Inspection” fee for solar owners!

In the competitive electric utilities, there is no mandate that REPs provide any form of solar buyback. Today there are about five REPs that do, with the terms getting worse each month.

It’s time for behind-the-meter solar installers to be part of the solution. This means that in our Texas (mostly) hands-off business mentality, we must design systems that are “win/win” for consumers and providers alike. No more designing to 100+% of need, even if the homeowner demands that he “wants a credit.” That’s what too many have done for years and now policy has taken a turn for the worse.

The pendulum is swinging against distributed solar, at a time when the state needs as much energy as possible from a variety of sources. Policies and buyback programs perceived by consumers to be unfair will disrupt the Texas solar industry.

It’s my hope that our TXSES business members will come together in this next year and develop, in collaboration with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR), the Public Utility Commission and the legislature, well-founded professional standards to ensure that solar on your rooftop or behind your barn remains an indispensable part of the Texas energy landscape.