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Leaders must pave way for solar power
by Wyatt Emmerich
Dec 06, 2013 | 68 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print

On a sunny day this past summer, Germany produced a world record of 24 gigawatts of electricity per hour. That’s equal to 20 nuclear power stations. At its peak that day, solar panels produced a quarter of the entire electricity consumed in the nation.

Last year, the world installed more new solar power than any other form of generation — more than coal, oil, gas, nuclear or wind.

Energy trends over the past few years indicate solar is becoming something more than an insignificant pipe dream.

Existing panels are only about 15 percent efficient in converting sunlight into electricity. Payback on a roof installations can take 15 years.

New discoveries are paving the way for solar panels that are 40 percent efficient. As prices come down, it may soon make economic sense to install solar panels on your roof.

In Louisiana, the payback for solar roof panels is 6.6 years. Louisiana has a vibrant solar panel installation industry.

Meanwhile, Mississippi is at the bottom of the list when it comes to solar friendly laws. Year after year, legislative efforts to promote solar industry have been defeated in the legislature.

Brent Bailey, who lives east of Canton, has been promoting solar for years, first with the Farm Bureau and now as head of the “25x25” group. The name stands for 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.

“The utility lobbies are pretty strong,” Bailey told me in a phone interview. “They would rather you buy electricity from them rather than you produce it yourself.”

The issue at hand is “net metering.” Net metering allows homeowners with solar panels to receive a credit when their solar panels produce more electricity than they consume.

When the sun shines, roof panels produce more electricity than a home needs. With net metering, that extra electricity is sent back to the grid so other homeowners can use it. In other words, your neighbors can use the extra electricity from your solar panels.

With net metering, your meter runs backwards, measuring the electricity you are sending to the grid. In addition to being an electricity consumer, the homeowner with solar panels also becomes an electricity producer. When a home with solar panels produces extra electricity, it lowers the home’s electricity bill.

Net metering has a big influence on the payback period of installing solar panels. Louisiana has one of the nation’s most pro solar net metering laws. Meanwhile, Mississippi is one of five states having no net metering law at all.

Solar panel net metering could be a huge boon to the state’s many poultry farmers, Bailey says. The large roof space of chicken coops would make perfect spots for solar panels. Poultry producers could supplement their income by becoming electricity producers.

Time and time again, a net metering bill has died in various committees of the legislature.

“The utility companies will say it’s not safe, but it hasn’t been a problem in 45 other states. It’s just the old guard not wanting a change. I want consumers to have a choice and be able to produce their own electricity,” Bailey said.

Advance Mississippi, a statewide group of business leaders, supports net metering law. It is not included in the Governor Phil Bryant’s energy plan.

Mississippi Public Service Commission (PSC) is studying net metering. The PSC could implement net metering without legislation if two of three commissioners approved.

One key issue: Whether solar producers get a retail or wholesale credit for the energy they produce. In Louisiana, homeowners get a dollar-for-dollar credit on their utility bills at the retail rate they pay. Advance Mississippi raises the question of whether the reimbursement should be at the wholesale rate.

If solar panel producers get reimbursed at the retail rate, they are not having to pay for access to the grid. Some people believe this represents an unfair subsidy to solar power. Reimbursing at the wholesale rate would address this problem.

Louisiana has a payback period for solar panel installation of 6.6 years.Warranties on the panel are typically 20 to 25 years. So solar panels make sense under Louisiana’s aggressive net metering laws.

If solar efficiencies continue to increase and the price continues to drop, it won’t be long before solar panels start to appear in Mississippi, which has pretty good levels of sunshine, especially in the summertime when electricity demands for air conditioning are at a peak.

This has some pretty profound implications for utility companies, which is why they are fighting to delay net metering in Mississippi.

If Mississippians start installing solar panels, the electricity sales to the utility company will decline. The utility company will then have to raise prices to offset this decline in sales. The hire utility bills will encourage more solar panels to be installed. A vicious cycle could emerge that threatens the very foundation of our monopoly utility company model. Monopolies don’t work when there are competitive alternatives.

The solution is to regulate the electricity distribution grid, but allow anybody who wants to sell power into the grid to compete freely.

The grid itself is a natural monopoly. You can’t have five different companies running electrical wires to your house. Electricity production is completely different. Anybody can channel electricity into the gird, including owners of solar panels and dozens of power plants across the southeast. There is no reason power generation cannot be deregulated. The savings to consumers would be significant.

Power companies have so far succeeded in protecting their electricity monopoly in Mississippi. It’s the reason Mississippi is only one of five states without net metering. As solar continues to make progress in the rest of the nation, it will be harder and harder for state leaders to explain this to their constituents.

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