When CPS Energy, San Antonio’s publicly-owned utility, mailed out letters to the owners of solar-sporting homes in early April announcing that it was considering a program that would cut payments for sun-derived energy nearly in half – from 9.7 cents per kilowatt hour to roughly 5.6 cents – residents were shocked. CPS, the state’s most aggressive utility in pursuing centralized solar systems – currently on track for 440 megawatts from so-called “utility-scale” solar projects – appeared to be backpedaling fast on the decentralized rooftop variety.
Although the city’s solar installers weren’t included on that initial mailing, they heard about the proposed SunCredit system soon enough. As Lanny Sinkin, director of the non-profit advocacy group Solar San Antonio, remembers it, cell phones erupted at an April 9 gathering of solar representatives and utility officials as frantic customers sought answers. “All their cell phones are lighting up,” Sinkin said. “[CPS] really did convince the solar installers they were trying to kill the industry.” …
The utility hung its argument for reducing solar reimbursements on the difficult issue of economic justice. … Cris Eugster, executive vice president and chief strategy and technology officer for CPS, told Texas Climate News that rooftop solar unfairly burdens lower-income customers with the fixed costs of heavily financed power plants, transmission lines and the like. “It is a complex issue and there are a lot of nuances. How do you make this fair to all ratepayers and at the same time support the local industry and support the local rooftop solar industry – that’s the challenge we’re trying to address.”
It is not a novel argument among utilities or solar advocates dedicated to bringing pricey solar systems into low-income communities around the country — but does it hold up?
Read my examination of utility arguments and community efforts to break down the “solar divide” at Texas Climate News.
Top image is a solar install in Haiti courtesy of the U.S. DOE. The solar image on my splash page is courtesy of Lighthouse Solar, its original cutline reading: “The Red Oak Park subdivision was built as a low-income neighborhood with solar power installed by Lighthouse Solar. The cost saving from the solar production is passed on to the residents.”