Not all electrons are created equal. Some are cooked in the dark and smoky heat of coal-fired power stations. Some spin out of generators turned by the weight of water falling over dams on rivers. Some come from wind turbines out on the ocean or mounted along the ridges of mountain ranges and some are generated quietly in sheets of silcon as the light of the sun falls on photovoltaic cells.
2013 was a banner year for renewable energy in the United States. California installed half of the state’s total solar resource in one year. In places as diverse as Arizona and New York, Massachusetts and Georgia, Texas and Hawaii, hundreds of megawatts of solar energy were installed creating tens of thousands of jobs while reducing the price of installations 20 – 40 percent. In six states and the District of Columbia, solar provided 100 percent of new electrical generating capacity.
With this kind of momentum sweeping the country, you’d think this would be a good time to shift federal and state subsidies from oil, gas and coal production into the renewable energy that could power a clean and prosperous future for our nation. You’d think that we’d be ready to shift from producing energy with fossil fuels that have brought us to the brink of environmental disaster, destroyed more than 500 mountains across Appalachia, and brought catastrophic melting to the Arctic ice cap which has regulated earth’s climate for a million years.
That answer would be yes if you were concerned about the kind of world we leave for our children. That answer should be yes if you live in any of megapolitan centers situated on a coast at or near sea level. That answer would be yes if you were a homeowner looking for a way to reduce your energy expenses while helping the planet.
But that answer could be no if you are a utility with a big coal plant in which you want to burn train load after train load of toxic coal or a mining company paying virtually nothing for taxpayer owned coal in the Powder River Basin. It would be no if you were part of big oil, hoping to keep gas fueled cars idling in grid-locked cities.
That answer is a loud no! from ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) a group funded by corporations that produces cleverly written laws that sympathetic politicians take to state legislatures and use to quietly (they hope) strip away things like renewable energy portfolio standards, voting rights, and other pesky things that corporations don’t want to be hampered by.
In 2013, ALEC made it a legislative priority to strip away these standards, but failed in each effort. Last year, the The Arizona Public Service power utility spent $4.7 million in a failed attempt to convince the Arizona Corporation Commission to allow a hefty monthly charge to be levied on households with solar power, ostensibly to charge them for the costs of the electric grid that carries the excess power created by solar systems to other utility customers.
There’s big money at stake and when we, the people, become the means of producing electricity, when our rooftops replace dirty power plants and giant companies like Duke and Excel have to pay instead of charging us for electricity, we win, the planet wins and fossil fuels still suck.
This video tells the story of Fred Ecks, a Colorado homeowner who installed his own rooftop photo voltaic system. Colorado voters adopted the first U.S. renewable portfolio standard with Amendment 37 in November 2004. The Colorado legislature strengthened those standards for investor owned utilities in 2010. Now 29 states, Washington, D.C., and two territories have RPSs and eight other states have renewable portfolio goals. Net Neutrality, which gives solar-powered households credit for the electrons they feed into the grid, has helped reduce the price of solar systems and create thousands of jobs in the renewable energy industry. Stung by failure to roll back clean energy requirements, ALEC and big utilities are trying to stop paying solar households for the energy the contribute to the grid by repealing net metering rules. Don’t let them win in your state.