Climate Corner: Save solar energy in West Virginia
Nov 11, 2023
Solar energy is one of the best ways West Virginians can save money on energy bills and dramatically reduce carbon emissions. It’s a chance to invest in clean homegrown energy that supports the local economy. It’s an opportunity for households and businesses to take control of their energy future. Installing solar allows West Virginians to generate electricity on their own roof tops or property. Over three thousand West Virginians have already chosen to install solar. That number should grow in the coming years. The solar industry supports nearly 400 local jobs. These jobs help strengthen communities and support families. Unfortunately, all of that is at risk as solar is under attack in West Virginia. Out of state utility FirstEnergy wants to turn off the lights on West Virginians’ energy choices and stop the growth of solar.
FirstEnergy has filed a proposal with the West Virginia Public Utility Commission to slash the value of solar for customers in MonPower and Potomac Edison territories. This would make it much harder for households, businesses, and organizations in that territory to choose solar. It would slow the solar growth enjoyed over the last decade and potentially take jobs away from West Virginia communities. It would hamper West Virginians ability to reduce carbon emissions to fight climate change. It would strand millions of dollars already invested in solar energy and discourage further investment. In the same proposal, FirstEnergy is also asking to force yet another significant rate increase on their customers. They want to keep all West Virginians tied to their ever-increasing rates and take away their freedom of energy choices.
Solar customers tied to the grid enroll in a program called net metering. When the sun is shining, solar users use the power they make in their home or business. If they make more than what they need, the excess power flows to their neighbors — wherever it can be used. When the sun isn’t shining, they buy the power they need from the utility. Solar customers pay the same rate for electricity that their neighbors do. They also receive a credit for the power they provided at the same rate. It’s a fair 1:1 transaction that appropriately values the benefits of solar energy. The current rate for power is around 11.5 cents per kWh. FirstEnergy wants to slash the solar credit to just 6.5 cents per kWh – and increase the rate for power to over 12 cents per kWh. Solar customers would be unjustly subsidizing utilities who are making billions of dollars. It would make it nearly impossible for customers to go solar and discourage further investment.
Solar energy benefits everyone and slowing solar is the wrong choice for all West Virginians. Studies have been done that show the economic and environmental benefits net metered solar provides to the broader grid exceeds the retail cost of energy. For example, when a home or business produces solar, it’s immediately used by that home or business or its neighbors. Using power right where it’s made means less strain on the system that carries power across the state. Since solar owners do not use the grid as often, they do not put much wear and tear on it making it last longer. Transmission and distribution systems are very costly to upgrade and those upgrades contribute to rate increases. Avoiding them by investing in local generation like solar helps keep costs down for all customers. We are not powerless. Even though FirstEnergy wants to take away West Virginians’ solar choice, we can say “No!”. Their unfair proposal is in front of the West Virginia Public Service Commission. The Commission will decide on the proposal in early 2024. Now is the time to make your voice heard. The Commission is accepting comments on the proposal. Add your voice to hundreds of fellow West Virginians’ who have spoken out against this unfair proposal. Contact your legislators. Tell them to stand with West Virginians and tell the Commission to reject FirstEnergy’s anti-solar proposal. Websites WV4EF, SolarUnitedNeighbors and WVLovesSolar have more information as well as actions you can easily take in opposition to the proposed changes.
Giulia Mannarino, of Belleville, is a grandmother concerned for her granddaughter’s future, and vice president of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.