With climate change deniers and fossil fuel interests in power in Washington, bold action on clean energy is needed at the state level. But New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's Public Service Commission (PSC) made a quiet decision recently that will hurt one of our best tools for building more solar energy capacity.
In March, the PSC voted to eliminate "net metering," a simple policy that grows distributed solar power by making it a good deal for customers. To put it simply, the energy you generate from your rooftop panels can be fed back into the grid, and the power company pays you for it.
The PSC decided that this should be replaced by something called Value of Distributed Energy Resources rules, a needlessly complicated process that will reduce incentives for the development of residential and community renewable energy projects. The commission swapped out a simple, effective policy for a confusing mix of incentives and 'price signals' that seem designed to only be understood by mathematicians.
Well-structured net metering programs have worked to reduce costs to owners, making rooftop and community solar much more attractive. New York desperately needs more of this—and fast. The share of the state's electric power generation from renewable sources is abysmally low: Less than one percent comes from solar, and less than five percent from wind. By enforcing strong benchmarks for renewable development, creating access to low-cost public financing, and easing pathways for renewable development, we can build on the modest gains that New York has made in the renewable sector and realize the full benefits of the clean energy revolution that is sweeping the country.
Other states have recently ditched net metering, and it’s proven to be terrible policy. When Nevada's Public Utility Commission (PUC) eliminated retail net metering, major solar companies stopped doing business there. The public outcry and job losses led to a quick turnabout. It's a lesson that tinkering with policies that are already working can have negative consequences immediately.
A few years ago, Governor Cuomo showed strong leadership by enacting the country's first statewide ban on fracking. He needs to make New York a leader in renewable energy—and when and where he fails, the legislature must step up and take the lead. They can pass legislation to override the PSC decision, and by demanding that utilities transition to 100% renewable energy by 2035.
Net metering is a key part of this transition. Increasing generation of renewable energy will not only help to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, it will improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers, protect the environment, create jobs and reduce the health costs associated with dirty energy.