If I say to you, “monopoly” what does it conjure? A seemingly-endless game based on money and power, and moving a little metal race car around a square board. A service that a customer needs but only a single provider can offer. A well-dressed, portly, bald man with a monocle.
Solar panel installers like Ipsun Solar exist in the face of monopoly electric service in many states. What benefit do we give the electric customer that the utility fails to? How does our outlook on energy choice challenge utility dominance? Read on.
Utilities are holding back renewable energies like solar in the DC Metro Area
While utilities tout their renewable energy projects and partnerships a substantial amount of dirty energy plants are still in use including in states like Maryland and Virginia. Not only are many old coal-burning units not slated to close anytime soon, Dominion Virginia is actually planning a new gas-burning plant in the I-95 corridor in Central Virginia. Utilities justify their lack of progress developing clean energy as uneconomic but this conclusion is based on outdated models and skewed projections of future trends.
To make use of truly sustainable energy in your business or your home, the best investment is a solar energy system of your own.
On the grid, but off of dirty energy
It’s helpful to think of a utility like Dominion Energy as doing two separate things - one is maintaining power lines in their territory and the other is handling the sources of the energy that travels to all the locations where that electricity gets used. This helps a homeowner understand how it is that solar panels can drastically reduce their reliance on utility electricity by cutting down the amount of their power that the utility supplies, even while they continue to metered and serviced by the utility.
Sometimes, your home will still need to use electricity coming in over the wires - including at night, on cloudy or stormy days, basically any time devices in your home require more power than your solar energy system (and any battery storage capacity that you have) can put out. Is still there for you to buy the remainder of your power from when you need to. The power company But every hour your solar panels are producing, you’re getting power that you don’t have to pay anyone for.
What alternative energy means in 2020
Sustainable forms of electric power used to be called alternative energies. Picture engineers tinkering in labs and garages in the 1970s amid an oil crisis to refine solar technology. Conventional energy sources took on an air of reliability and price stability by contrast. But now, in many environments across the country solar is cheaper than some of these tried-and-true dirty energy production methods. We now know that because of emissions during drilling, burning gas for energy can be more carbon equivalent-intensive than burning coal. As we pursue some extreme kinds of fossil fuel extraction like gas fracking and mountaintop removal for coal, we see that dependence on these old energy sources is a radically unwise path. Solar, now proven and profitable, no longer looks like the experimental, edgy technology it once did.
Today, alternative energy means refusing to accept accepting the utility monopoly on energy. It’s a way to reject passivity and addiction to dirty power. It’s a path to flip the traditional one-way relationship of producer and consumer in the electric system. And solar even shows how even in an electric monopoly world, with the right regulations and laws, solar plus energy storage equals a more resilient and dynamic grid. Using net energy metering, a policy in which a utility compensates a customer who owns solar panels with full bill credit when they send solar power to the grid, the value of solar helps the owner make back the cost of installation.
The important thing for making sure that solar grows in a monopoly utility-served location is for customers to hold their energy company accountable to help keep a friendly environment for adding more solar and energy storage to the grid. Engage with your utility and let them know you have solar or plan go solar soon and challenge them to build vastly more solar starting now. In Virginia, an economically powerful and densely populated county is racing to solarize over 100 buildings and the example Fairfax is setting can help drive key reforms at the state level. Every home and commercial building that chooses solar will help move Virginia out of pure utility dependence and toward a future with solar distributed across our communities.