If you have a solar electric system on your house, there may be times when your solar panels generate more energy than your home consumes. This net energy can be uploaded onto the grid for use by other power consuming neighbors or businesses. This is a good deal, because it increases the percentage of clean electricity sources while allowing you to offset some of the costs you invested in your solar system. Put another way, you can literally make the meter run backwards.
At what rate does the meter run backwards? Under current state law, the meter runs backwards at the retail rate. Power companies like Xcel Energy buy the energy you contribute to the grid at the same rate you normally pay them. For example, if you have your thermostat set to turn off your A/C during the day while you’re at work, the intense sun during the day would likely generate net energy that could be used to cool occupied office buildings. This is a time when the meter would run backwards. When you get home, you may use more energy to cool the house, cook, or do laundry, thus using more energy than your panels are likely generating at that hour. Essentially, you could generate clean energy for Xcel Energy during some of their highest peak demands, which is good for everyone. One would think.
Pathetically, the Minnesota GOP thinks this is a BAD IDEA. Instead of making the meter run back and forth to at an even rate, they’d like to change it to a one step forward two steps back model. By that, I mean that they want Xcel to be able to buy your excess electricity to you at wholesale and sell it right back to you at retail rates. That’s right. They want you to only earn wholesale rates on the clean energy you created during the peak demand hours of the day, then pay retail rates to earn it back when the meter runs forward.
You can thank Rep. Michael Beard (R) of District 35A (Shakopee, MN) and Rep. Tom Hackbarth* (R) of District 48A (Cedar, MN) for this proposed dirty energy handout. Not just anyone would propose taking away incentives for investments in home solar energy systems.
Here is the destruction of clean energy sanity in action:
Reps Beard and Hackbarth have the courage to stand in favor of asthma, mine shaft collapses, black lung, natural gas fracking, and water pollution. Or, maybe they’re just standing in support of campaign donations from power companies? Is there a difference?
Here’s a look at a sample of the donors to Rep. Mike Beard’s campaign:
GREAT RIVER ENERGY – Electric Utilities – $500 -09/02/2010
RURAL ELECTRIC PAC – Electric Utilities – $250 – 06/12/2010
XCEL ENERGY EMPLOYEES PAC – Electric Utilities – $250 – 07/02/2010
OTTER TAIL POWER – Electric Utilities – $200 – 09/03/2010
XCEL ENERGY EMPLOYEES PAC – Electric Utilities – $100 – 10/14/2010
That’s $1,300 in campaign contributions from electric utilities. $1,300 may not sound like a lot, but it Rep Beard’s total campaign contributions were $19,733. Of the $19,733, $5,893 was from public election subsidies and $1,200 from self-funding, so the $1,300 accounts for more than 10% of his campaign’s outside money contributions.
Clearly, those utilities would be getting a HUGE return on their investment in Rep. Beard if that amendment passed.
Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. In spite of the efforts of power companies to buy a horrible change to our state’s energy acquisition, common sense won out. This amendment by Reps Beard and Hackbarth was tossed out.
My Solar Use Case
In case it’s not already clear that Beard and Hackbarth’s utility funded ideas are not good for Minnesota, here’s another perspective: I’ve been considering installing a solar system. As I understand the numbers, the energy potential of five typical panels would cover my home’s gross energy needs. That would not cover peak load, but it would more than cover the base load when no one is home and the A/C is off. Under current state law, this would allow me to get my electric bill down to nearly zero. But, if I’m going to do this, it would make sense to put as many panels on the roof as fit, since they represent only a fraction of an entire solar project’s cost. Why not make the meter run backwards by contributing enough energy to the grid to power a second Minneapolis home? If Reps Beard and Hackbarth had their way, the incentive to do this would be much less since the payout on the investment in clean energy would go up by years. Why take away my incentive to invest in improving the quality of our state’s energy sources? Try putting common sense ahead of campaign dollars and sense, guys.
* Yes, this is the same Rep. Hackbarth that was cruising St. Paul’s Highland Park with a sidearm last fall in search of a woman he had met online.