West Virginia solar advocates score big net metering victory
“Hundreds of West Virginians have made hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment in home and business solar power systems, relying on the Legislature’s commitment to net metering. Don’t break that commitment.”
-Mary Wildfire, Spencer
In January 2015, West Virginia monopoly utilities and their supporters in the legislature proposed eliminating the state’s net metering law, the bedrock policy that allows solar homes to reduce their electric bills by the amount of energy they produce.
Solar United Neighbors of West Virginia members joined with hundreds of solar advocates in pushing back against these attacks on the people’s rights to generate their own solar energy. We quickly pulled together a steering committee, identified key players, and put together a campaign focused on the state’s solar energy activists. We generated more than 1,000 public comments (a sample is included on this page) on the issue in two weeks and, as a result, many legislators of both political parties emphasized their commitment to protecting net metering. In a press release, the governor underscored the increasing role that solar is playing in West Virginia and acknowledged the importance of new solar jobs.
The Public Service Commission created the Net Metering Task Force in response to the proposed legislation. The Task Force was charged with determining if non-solar customers are subsidizing solar customers. Solar United Neighbors of West Virginia board member Cathy Kunkel served as an expert on the task force. Along with other solar advocates, we argued that not only is there no “cost sharing” but also solar customers provide a net benefit to the grid, the utility, and other customers by providing power at times of peak demand. The PSC staff attorneys agreed with the solar advocates that this cross-subsidization is a non-issue and did not require further action by the Committee.
“Just a reminder of the importance of keeping the net metering authorization that a portion of this bill would eliminate. West Virginia is at a threshold in advancing sustainable energy systems, and this would be a huge setback.
A community coming together
Until 2015, West Virginia’s solar community had not come together to speak with one voice. Public conversations that developed around solar power were usually framed in the context of the state’s environmental movement and were considered polarizing in coal country. Solar installers had a legislative presence, but they lacked strong vocal support from the broader community of solar power producers. The successful defense of net metering was a watershed year in a coal state as solar became a populist issue, supported by both parties. To make the shift, we cultivated a robust grassroots network by helping people go solar in their communities.
The networks we have been creating have become powerful tools to support policy change and defend critical solar policies. Our broad base of solar supporters and co-op participants are educated through our extensive communication network. This includes newsletters, listservs, and community outreach. This prepared the community to take action when West Virginia’s legislature attacked our fundamental right to net metering. We’re continuing to build our base and create strong networks to support critical solar policies for all West Virginians.