While some utilities appear to support customer-owned ‘rooftop’ solar, the reality is often quite different. Especially here in Virginia, we’ve seen monopoly utilities fight tooth-and-nail to keep their customers from going solar. While this opposition to distributed solar may come as a surprise to many, there’s one straight-forward way to uncover the motivations behind utility obstruction: follow the money.
Utilities looking out for profits, not customers
As Virginians go solar on their homes, businesses, and municipal facilities, they become energy producers—directing benefits of energy production back to their local community. Rooftop ‘distributed’ solar builds high quality, resilient power into the electric grid and gives consumers a choice in how they get their energy. Monopoly utilities, however, only see their solar customers as lost revenue—and a threat to their investments in traditional power generation infrastructure.
Virginia’s largest electric utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, are vertically integrated, ‘investor-owned’ utilities that own generation (power plants), transmission lines, and local distribution infrastructure. This integration gives them a financial incentive to invest in and sell electricity from power plants they own, and a disincentive against encouraging customer-owned solar generation and efficiency. In short, every time somebody goes solar on their home or business, they buy less power from their monopoly utility.
Producing local power with rooftop solar benefits all Virginians, but it challenges a utility business model that hasn’t changed for nearly 100 years. Like a car designed to guzzle gas and need tire replacement as often as possible, investor-owned utilities profit from selling more electricity and investing in expensive electric grid infrastructure. These investments are paid for by utility customers and generate a guaranteed return for the utility’s shareholders. Customer-owned solar and energy efficiency “flatten energy demand” and reduce the need for these investments—a benefit to utility customers, but not for utility shareholders.
Instead of addressing the changing energy landscape and market realities brought on by new technology and customer preferences, Virginia’s monopoly utilities use their financial and political influence to pass legislation that privileges their existing business model and ensure profits for their shareholders at the expense of their customers. Virginia’s monopoly utilities consistently block common sense legislation that would increase solar options for their customers and save money for all ratepayers.
Join the fight against our rigged system
Virginians are demanding a two-way, democratic energy system that directs benefits and control back to local communities. While utilities will play a necessary role in this transition, they will ultimately be unsuccessful if they continue to put shareholder profits over the interests of their customers.
Our growing, diverse group of Solar supporters is fighting for an energy system that puts people over profits, builds reliable local energy into our communities, and provides consumer choice and energy freedom. Utilities remain a political force to be reckoned with, but recent events suggest that the tides are starting to turn in our favor. We can take our power back by continuing to join together in the fight for energy democracy in Virginia!