Solar, As If The Poor Mattered

solar installation haiti

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.

Solar_SA_incomeAlthough 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.”