Empowerment over Protection: how solar and DERs can help the disadvantaged
Editor’s Note: The following is a Viewpoint article which appeared February 23, 2016 on UtilityDIVE.com, contributed by Jon Wellinghoff and James Tong. Wellinghoff is the former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and is currently a partner at law firm Stoel Rives LLP. Tong is the vice president of strategy and government affairs for Spruce Finance (formerly Clean Power Finance and Kilowatt Financial), a financing provider for residential solar and energy efficiency.
The boom in rooftop solar has sparked concerns about a “green divide” and even undertones of class warfare. (See here, here, and here.) And it’s true that solar customers to date have tended to be more affluent than average households. Although recent data suggest that solar is now expanding into neighborhoods of more modest incomes, fear persists that solar policies will continually favor the wealthy at the expense of everyone else, particularly the most vulnerable. Critics thus demand reforms and fees for solar customers. What they overlook, however, is how policies designed to protect the poor can actually make them worse off.