Climate Corner: Net metering benefits all

Feb 17, 2024

Jean Ambrose


As someone who lives in rural Wood County, I experience frequent power outages. That means worrying about whether my freezer is going to thaw or if my blood sugar alarm is working. For my neighbor it’s her oxygen machine for COPD. That’s why the idea of “living off the grid” is so attractive to many people. When you can generate your own power you know it’s always there for you and you have the security that you’ll always be able to afford it.

With that in mind, we installed 18 solar panels six years ago. After the solar tax credit, the array cost us $12,000, which would take at least 10 years to get back in savings, but we wanted to contribute to reducing greenhouse gasses and also enjoy the sense of self reliance that comes from using the sun for our power needs. It still is magical to me. (A fun fact: the sun produces enough energy in one hour to power the entire globe for one year.) I could plug in an electric vehicle and eliminate my gasoline costs as well. The economic security this gives to a household is tremendous, to know you don’t have to worry about affording your heat and electricity and getting to work.

As electrification of our energy system moves inevitably forward, the case for making the change to solar gets stronger and stronger. Mon Power’s number of customers generating their own power increased from 306 in 2019 to 763 in 2023, according to PSC filings. Business and residential customers who have invested in their own solar power number around 5,000 according to Solar United Neighbors. If we use my own investment as an average, that means private individuals have voluntarily invested $60,000,000 into West Virginia’s power grid.

In return, customers with solar panels have a special electric meter that measures both kilowatts used and kilowatts generated; at the end of the month the customer pays for the difference or accumulates credits against their next bill. This is called net metering where the customer gets the same credit for the power they generate that the electric company charges. This is on top of the base rates they also pay to the electric companies which are supposed to be each customer’s share of transmission and distribution costs.

Seeing the increase in solar power, WV electric companies are working this legislative session to pay a much smaller wholesale rate for customer generated power. This eliminates the incentive for the average homeowner to make that big upfront investment; Dan Conant owner of Solar Holler in the Eastern Panhandle said his scheduled installations in First Energy territory all were canceled when this came up in the legislature. He thinks it will kill his business and any others in the state who are looking to invest in the jobs of the future in solar energy. (This happened in Nevada.) WV is ranked 49th per capita among all states jobs according to the annual census by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council with only 378 solar energy jobs, while Kentucky has 1595, Ohio has 7486, and Pennsylvania 4288 solar jobs .

41 states have net metering in place. It has been a critical policy for the expansion of solar businesses, but WV seems to want to discourage this economic development. WV electric companies say people who can’t afford solar energy are subsidizing those who can by not paying their share of transmission and distribution costs. That argument ignores the clear benefits to the electric grid and to other customers expansion of this energy resource provides. Solar home photovoltaic (PV) systems reduce the amount generated by or purchased from fossil fuel-fired plants. They decrease the amount of energy lost through transmission lines. By reducing demand on the grid, solar systems help ratepayers and utilities avoid the cost of new power plants, transmission lines and other electric infrastructure. Solar energy is stable, unlike the fluctuations we experience with other forms of energy, and helps stabilize rates otherwise subject to volatile fossil fuel prices. Solar PV energy also increases grid resiliency by decentralizing power production so one region’s problems don’t have to spill over into other regions.

Solar energy also creates valuable benefits to society at large and to the environment, which is one of my personal motivators for our family’s investment. 25% of greenhouse gasses which are warming our planet come from electricity production, the second highest after transportation (28% : EPA) Solar energy reduces air pollution that harms public health. It creates jobs and new business opportunities that spur local economies.

A review of 11 cost/benefit analyses of net metering revealed that solar energy brought more value to the community and society than the benefits received through net metering. (Shining Rewards: Lindsey Hallock, Frontier Group)

Net metering is smart public policy that creates benefits for all, including electric companies, and provides fair compensation to those who invest in solar. Government is always carving out exceptions and incentives for what are called “public/private partnerships.” Net metering is a creative public/private partnership that benefits, not just one or two companies, but hundreds of West Virginians, with the potential to benefit thousands. If solar homeowners were a single business, net metering would remain the law of the land without debate.


Jean Ambrose is trying not to be a criminal ancestor.