This toolkit is designed to educate and empower communities to defend and expand net metering programs. The tool kit defines net metering, offers proactive strategies and case studies, articles and sample opinion pieces. It counters arguments made against net metering programs and provides a glossary of energy related terms to help make this discussion accessible and understandable.
Net Metering: Giving Communities “Power over Power”
Net Metering is a “distributed energy” policy that allows families, businesses, or small groups of people to reduce electricity bills by generating some or all of their electricity through rooftop solar panels or other technologies that are tied into the electric grid.
In a nutshell, solar panels or other renewable energy systems are hooked up to a meter that shows how much energy the system contributes to the utility grid, and how much the customer draws down from the grid each month.
The customer receives a credit on their utility bill for excess electricity produced by their system. The majority of U.S. solar customers offset less than 100% of their utility usage. Net metering reduces but does not entirely zero out their utility bills. The customer pays the utility for the “net” amount of energy they use in a month. If their system contributes more energy to the grid than the customer used that month, the customer gets a credit that can be applied to future bills.
The use of solar and other emerging technologies in this way—at both the family and the community level—is catching on. Net metering is now a program in 44 states, and growing.
The move to distributed energy production through things like net metering has the potential to be transformative for the health and economic security of low income and communities of color. The shift to renewable energy will help rid our communities of illness, disease and other social ills associated with energy pollution.
Net metering also provides a way for customers to lock in the cost of their electricity for the lifetime of the renewable energy system. (Once you purchase solar panels, the cost of the electricity the solar panels produce remains constant.) Lastly, net metering is one of a number of policies that can promote the growth of clean energy businesses and jobs.
Click here for a hand-out that provides an explanation of both net metering and our current fossil fuel reliant energy system:
Grow the field:
Strengthening and expanding on net metering policies will create a more level playing field for participation in renewable energy generation, and build a more democratic way of how we control and create energy. Here are four pro-active strategies we can pursue in policy making:
1) Improve and design net metering programs that allow for excess generation to be paid to owners (this will actually benefit low-income and people of color who are more likely to “use less” energy).
2) Allow a multi-meter building owner to allocate solar system credits to tenants of the building, so people who don’t own homes can actually join together in a community project. These policies are often referred to as “virtual net-metering”.
3) Account for customers using the utility grid AND the environmental and health benefits of renewable energy generation to ensure people receive the right benefits;
4) Combine net metering with other programs, investments or policies that help finance and support community members to participate in the burgeoning renewable generation landscape.
Here’s a great blog series that captures the diversity of people who benefit from net metering programs: http://blog.cleanenergy.org/?s=%23solarworks4me
Soulardarity — a low income black community on the outskirts of Detroit (Highland Park) had their streetlights turned off (and in some instances, the poles were actually taken) for non-payment and the community was in the dark. But through distributed generation and collective ownership of solar, they are now in the light:
Solar Holler — in West Virginia, they found a mechanism whereby people can install smart meters in their houses (for free) and the revenue generated has financed solar power for a church in Shepherdstown and a library in Harper’s Ferry:
Model Projects that have identified financing mechanisms that work for low-income communities:
- GRID Alternatives: http://www.gridalternatives.org/
- Community Power Network: http://communitypowernetwork.com/
- Freeing the Grid http://freeingthegrid.org/
- Vote Solar votesolar.org
- Coalition for Solar Rights oursolarrights.org
Further Readings on Net Metering:
Why Race Matters in Determining Our Energy Future
By Anthony Giancatarino, Director of Policy and Strategy, Center for Social Inclusion,
October 16, 2014
“Recently, the National Policy Alliance made waves claiming that net metering policies create more inequity and harm to low-income communities and communities of color. Net metering is a mechanism that allows a household to receive payment or a credit for generating renewable energy that is tied to the electrical grid. The NPA is right to raise concern for communities of color and low-income communities when it comes to our energy system. Yet, as Brentin Mock writes over at Grist the argument is short-sighted and actually hinders opportunities for communities of color.”
Utilities vs. rooftop solar: What the fight is about
By David Roberts, Grist, May 15, 2013
“I wrote about the fight a while back — “solar panels could destroy U.S. utilities, according to U.S. utilities ” — but it’s worth taking a closer look at what’s under dispute. Some bits are unavoidably wonky and technical, but it’s important to understand exactly what’s happening. This is a pivotal issue, a trial run for many such struggles to come.”
How can we boost distributed solar and save utilities at the same time?
By David Roberts, Grist, April 11, 2013
“What’s needed, then, is something deeper, a more fundamental restructuring of the utility model, a way to escape once and for all the cross-incentives that are pitting utilities against energy democracy.”
Article: Big Energy has tried to turn people of color against solar power since forever
By Brentin Mock, Grist, November 14, 2014
“Having stepped away from the dirty fight utilities have picked with the home-solar movement for a couple of weeks, I was able to take a bird’s-eye view of everything we’ve covered. I realized that I’ve flown over this debate before. This isn’t the first time I’ve watched fossil fuel-based, investor-owned utilities get into the pockets, coffers, and heads of black “leaders” and officials to nip the blossom of clean energy.”
Article: Wait, who says people of color don’t care about the climate?
By Brentin Mock, Grist, November 3, 2014
“Black and Latino voters don’t care about climate change. Or, that’s what two new studies would have you believe.”
Commentary: Net metering is a way to move Colorado toward climate justice
By Rosemary Harris Lytle, October 23, 2014
“Some may wonder why “environmental justice” is among the “Five Strategic Game Changer Initiatives” of the NAACP. Why would a historic civil rights organization like ours rank it as equal among other more traditional civil rights mandates: Closing the achievement gap, ending race-based health disparities and abolishing the egregious and racist death penalty?
“The answer is all in the numbers.
“Communities of color have disproportionately borne the weight of environmental injustice — and it is no different with our electricity production system where the health and economic impacts of the processes are a particularly heavy load.”
Commentary: Clean, Distributed Energy Can Benefit Low-Income Families
By Jorge Madris and Marilynn Marsh-Robinson, Environmental Defense Fund, November 17, 2014
“…the concern about cost impacts on low-income families and communities of color is also frequently used as an argument against transitioning to a clean energy economy. Sometimes these arguments come from elected officials and advocates with genuine concerns, while other times, they come from industry groups who are trying to protect their own interests by pitting these communities against clean energy. In both cases, incomplete or outright misinformation muddies the water and impedes effective policy dialogue.”
Commentary: Latinos shouldn’t be pawns in fight over rooftop solar power
By Arturo Carmona, November 12, 2014
“The three largest utility companies in California – Pacific Gas and Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison – have been using Latinos and others who live in middle- and lower-income communities as pawns in a war against rooftop solar.”