Penalizing Solar Homeowners Is Not Good Public Policy

By Howard ‘Scot’ Arey

Potential anti-solar policies at the Pedernales Electric Coop (PEC) threaten to derail future distributed solar in PEC’s service territory, the rural electric cooperative that serves more meters than any other U.S. co-op.

With a little less than eight weeks until sine die, May 31, 2021, the Texas legislature is still debating the right policies to remedy February’s massive grid failure from Winter Storm Uri. Yet there is another battle raging below the watchful eyes of energy lobbyists.

The Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) is poised to implement behind-the-meter solar policies that will transform it from being inarguably one of Texas’s most supportive distributed solar proponents to perhaps the most punitive.

How could this have happened so quickly?

Just a few years ago, I wrote an article lauding the PEC’s policy and its positive effects on one of Texas’s fastest growing industries. But a few key leadership changes later, the current PEC team and board is on track to enact policies that degrade the distributed solar value proposition, not just for new solar owners but for homeowners who have already invested in solar to guard against rising electricity prices and to do their part for climate action.

Loaded language in recent policy (“this class [solar] is being heavily subsidized”) with little supporting data swung the PEC pendulum from proponent to adversary of distributed renewable energy. Not lost in this shift: the punitive charges and rate structure were put in place after it installed numerous community solar farms – on its side of the meter and pricing.

Fixed-rate structures for non-interconnected customers are PEC’s answer for most homeowners. But for the small percentage of solar homeowners, PEC will impose the highest-in-state application fee ($650 for a now two-step application) and time-of-use (TOU) rate structures with commercial-like demand charges to approximate solar customer grid use.

As the rural electric cooperative that serves more meters than any other U.S. co-op, PEC’s potential impact is huge. Instead of implementing policies that threaten to derail future solar investments, PEC could be the example of how to build a safe, resilient grid with distributed energy resources in Texas.

We’re in a whole new world.

Whether reducing electric demand with solar, installing the highest-SEER-rated HVAC system, or charging an EV, the only common denominator is that every homeowner is only that – a homeowner. Everyone should be treated equally. If PEC proposed policies represent a better way to send price signals and measure homeowner use of the grid, then it should be just as smart for non-solar homeowners as it is for solar homeowners.

Let’s hope that PEC pauses these rushed policy changes that will sabotage the investment of so many who have already gone solar and those yet to go solar. Penalizing solar homeowners is not good public policy.

Howard ‘Scot’ Arey is the owner of Solar CenTex, a solar installation company that designs and installs residential, commercial, farm and ranch, and small municipal solar projects. He is also Chair of TXSES.