Important voices have been weighing in as bullish on the prospects for energy efficiency, solar power, and other forms of small-scale (“distributed”) electricity generation, including the nation’s mayors, General Electric, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, and America’s electric utilities.
Poll after poll has shown Americans want clean energy. Just today, a survey released by the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association and cutting across demographic and political lines shows nine in ten voters support using energy efficient products, believe it’s important to include energy efficiency as part of our country’s energy solutions, and two-thirds are more likely to vote a candidate for Congress who supports energy efficiency policies.
As part of our own efforts, NRDC earlier this month released a joint statement with the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), representing America’s investor-owned utilities. It “recommends significant changes to how the utilities providing our light and heat are regulated,” with an eye to accelerating progress toward a clean energy future.
Supporting solar and other distributed generation
The joint NRDC-EEI statement underscores the economic and environmental promise of both energy efficiency and distributed generation, and the need to ensure that underserved populations also share fully in the benefits. It includes the crucial point that “the retail electricity business should not be viewed or regulated as if it were a commodity business dependent on growth in electricity use to keep its owners financially whole.”
Some, including valued NRDC allies, have asked whether the statement represents a change in NRDC’s longstanding opposition to changes in electricity pricing that reduce or eliminate rewards for saving energy or generating it on rooftops with solar panels. For example, there are those who want to repeal pro-solar “net metering” policies who argue that electricity costs should be shifted from charges based on actual consumption to flat monthly fees; one obvious result would be to reduce customers’ rewards for drawing less power off the grid. But the joint statement does not propose or endorse this.
Instead, it expresses confidence that “rate designs will continue to develop that reward customers for using electricity more efficiently,” and provides examples that pointedly exclude any increases in flat monthly charges. NRDC joins consumer groups in opposing such an approach. If anyone invokes the joint statement inappropriately in any public forum, NRDC will respond promptly to correct the record.
The path forward
NRDC and EEI will of course continue to disagree on many issues, which makes consensus on the joint goal of both supporting the grid and investing in clean energy technologies all the more important. My hope is that, over time, even the most skeptical observers will see a distinct change for the better in both the tone and the substance of what is now a national conversation on the future of America’s utilities. It won’t happen overnight; I’ve already heard well-justified concerns about a recent EEI filing in an Arizona regulatory proceeding addressing the value and cost of distributed generation, and in the near future we will provide NRDC’s views independently to the Arizona regulators.
But I expect these differences to narrow as we continue our engagement with EEI and a host of other parties. I know that the joint EEI/NRDC statement will be judged ultimately on whether it opens more doors to energy efficiency and renewable resources, and that is as it should be. Meanwhile, I take heart from all the recent reminders that momentum continues to build, which attests the commitment of both longtime and new recruits to a very good cause.