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Talk of net-metering reform divides solar industry

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Talk of net-metering reform divides solar industry

Kicking off a solar conference in San Francisco this week,Sunrun Inc. CEO LynnJurich doubled down on her company's position that opponents are peddling lieswhen they claim rooftop solar, and the policy that supports it, is causingfinancial problems in the power industry.

"What we cannot accept is these arguments that continueto be put forth that [residential] solar customers are costing other customersmoney. … It is a total red herring," Jurich said to applause during theJuly 11 opening reception of Intersolar North America.

The next day, Kevin Fox, a partner at Keyes Fox and WiedmanLLP, said that even if there is a cost, the public overwhelmingly thinks it isworth the benefits rooftop solar provides. "[If] three-quarters ofratepayers … say they're perfectly fine with the policy that exists today innet metering, I just don't really see what the motivation is … to change"it, he said during a panel discussion.

However, those attempts to hold the line in the fight overnet-energy metering, which requires utilities in many states to pay customersretail prices for their excess solar power, is running up against dissentingvoices that say it is time to consider an approach that more accurately valuesdistributed generation.

"[We] have to figure out a new market mechanism orperhaps a new utility business model to fairly compensate the utilities whilestill giving fair value for the services that distributed resources canprovide," said John Berdner, vice president of regulatory and policystrategy at Enphase Energy Inc.

A 2015 ruling by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevadathat all but killedthat state's rooftop solar market highlights the need for solar companies totake the lead in devising policies to succeed net metering, said Sara BaldwinAuck, regulatory program director for the Interstate Renewable Energy CouncilInc. Otherwise, she said, states will come up with their own solutions and thesolar industry will be subject to a regulatory "jigsaw puzzle that is notgoing to be tenable for any sort of long-term growth."

In New York, solar companies joined with the state'sutilities in proposingan alternative to net metering that would ultimately try to calculate the valueof distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar panels. President and CEO TomWerner at the time said it was an attempt to preserve customer access to "thecleanest possible forms of energy."

But Sunrun, in particular, has refused to consider atransition, with company officials insisting that retail-rate net metering isnot a problem in need of fixing.

That position is causing headaches across the power industry.

"We worked on some storage legislation in Hawaiiearlier this year that ran afoul of some of the players that were trying tohold onto the old model … even though the storage thing that we would have donewould have helped them in their future model," Stem Inc. Policy DirectorTed Ko said in an interview. He said some solar companies seem to be clingingto existing policy in an effort at self-preservation.

"None of them are super profitable right now anyway, sothey're going to want to hold on as hard as they can. And you can't fault themfor that … they've done a good service to the country and the grid to have that… many customers installing that much solar," Ko said. But "we wantto rapidly move towards where we don't need mandates and subsidies, to where we'rejust getting compensated for the value we provide and that's enough."