Report: Solar energy benefits vastly outweigh costs

Media Contacts
Heather Leibowitz

Environment New York Research and Policy Center

New York, NY–Households and businesses with solar panels deliver greater benefits than they receive through programs like net metering, a report said today, countering increasing complaints from utilities that solar homeowners don’t pay their fair share.

“While some utilities claim they’re subsidizing solar panel owners, our report shows the opposite is probably true,” said Heather Leibowitz, Director of Environment New York.  “If anything, utilities should be paying people who go solar more, not less.”

The Environment New York Research & Policy Center report, Shining Rewards: The Value of Rooftop Solar Power for Consumers and Society, Society, is released just days after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an ambitious plan to curb New York State’s carbon emissions by 40 percent by doubling the amount of power it gets from renewable energy to 50 percent by 2030.

Net metering programs credit solar panel owners at a fixed rate — often the retail price of electricity — for providing excess power to the grid, similar to rollover minutes on a cell phone plan. The arrangements have helped solar energy skyrocket across the country, but in recent years utilities have increasingly attacked them as unjustified “subsidies.”

Today’s report tells a different story. Of the 11 net metering studies reviewed, eight found that the value of solar energy was higher than the average local residential retail electricity rate. The median value of solar power across all 11 studies was nearly 17 cents per unit, compared to the nation’s average retail electricity rate of about 12 cents. 

In other words: utilities were likely underpaying solar panel owners, not subsidizing them.

All 11 of the studies found that solar panel owners offered the electric system as a whole net benefits, including reduced capital investment costs, avoided energy costs, and reduced environmental compliance costs.  

“Solar is an increasingly viable and valuable tool for cutting carbon emissions, and the more we know the better it looks,” said Nilda Mesa, the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. “Mayor de Blasio has committed to retrofitting all City buildings with any significant energy use, and catalyzing the private sector to do the same, to get us to our goal of cutting emissions 80 percent by 2050. Solar is already installed on 27 City buildings – including nearly a dozen schools and City Hall – but we’re not stopping there: we’re currently tripling our installed capacity. Environment New York has done important work in analyzing the feasibility and the hidden value of solar and what utility commissions can do to encourage more of it.”

“This report demonstrates yet again that solar pays dividends, and we need to be investing in it,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “It’s crucial that we reduce barriers for buildings and whole communities to buy in to solar power generation.”

The report’s findings should also help our state decision makers determine the true value of the expansion of solar power in New York, Environment New York said. And right now, the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) is considering establishing a program, called Community Net Metering, to allow expanded access to clean energy. The program would allow energy customers to subscribe to a local renewable energy project and receive a utility bill credit for their portion of the energy produced. Solar advocates hoped today’s report would shed new light on the debate over New York’s net metering program.

“Solar power’s rewards are far greater than its costs,” said Leibowitz. “We should be encouraging even more solar, not penalizing it.”