A friend of mine recently began renovating her home, and as she frequented Home Depot to buy supplies, she took notice of the Solar City representatives often standing outside of the home improvement store.
Though she repeatedly visited the store over the course of a week, she figured that Solar City didn’t want her business. After passing by the Solar City information kiosk at least half-a-dozen times not once did the representative approach her about solar panels or even offer up a brochure.
She did, however, notice a few other customers were asked if they were interested. Merely a look between the two of us was all it took for me to get the gist of why she suspected she was not offered any information on the company.
Could it be that my friend, a fairly young African American woman, was looked over as someone who might be interested in subsidizing her energy use with Solar City because she wasn’t driving a luxury hybrid or looked the part of a home owner? Or was it that the kiosk representative assumed my friend doesn’t have the credit score necessary for their “Start with No Upfront Cost” deal?
Believe it or not, the discrepancy between what a solar customer looks like is all a part of the debate as to whether subsidized solar energy, or net metering, is fair. As an upper middle class homeowner, my friend would be an ideal customer for Solar City, but she didn’t fit the profile of the typical Solar City customer – white and male.
Net metering allows customers with rooftop solar panels to receive kilowatt-hour and/or financial credits for energy they generate in excess of their immediate use. These policies provide that a customer pay for only the net energy used regardless of when the power was generated and regardless of certain fixed costs incurred by the utility to ensure power is available to the customer at all times. These fixed costs must be absorbed by someone else. And unfortunately, those people tend to be those who can’t afford or don’t qualify for solar panels. Solar is great means of generating electricity, if you can afford it. But too often the costs for the use of solar panels is shifted, unfairly, to people of limited means. There is definitely a disproportionate impact on between solar use and those who pay for it, because the people who pay the most typically look like me or my friend, even if they are not so blessed with the means to afford the uptick in price.
It seems grossly unfair that energy customers who don’t benefit from solar energy are made to subsidize the lifestyle of those who do. Until we can find a way to ensure fixed costs are absorbed by everyone who pulls from the electric grid, then, we need to continue to evaluate the fairness of net energy metering policies.