The Energy Justice Stakes Embedded in the Net Energy Metering Policy Debates
Beyond Zero-Sum Environmentalism (Sarah Krakoff et al., eds., Environmental Law Institute 2019)
34 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2019 Last revised: 26 Jun 2019
Date Written: 2019
The fundamental shift in the economic structure of the energy system, spurred by the rapid adoption of rooftop solar power and policies that support it, has given rise to contentious regulatory and political debates concerning the value such customer-generators should receive in exchange for producing electricity. These debates, waged around the country in disparate jurisdictions such as Nevada and Minnesota, focus on the narrow question of the valuation of customer-produced electricity; however, this chapter argues that framing the disruption caused by customer-sited electricity generation solely as a debate regarding its monetary value masks the true stakes embedded in the current energy transition: the wholesale transformation of the energy system from one that is inherently unequal to one that is more just, equitable, and clean. Using principles of energy justice as a framework to view the larger dynamics within the NEM policy debate unmasks these tremendous stakes and reveals a remarkable opportunity to transform the existing energy system.
This chapter proceeds in several parts, including an overview of the rapidly changing regulatory and policy landscape concerning net energy metering (NEM), the policy framework that compensates electricity customers for the electricity they generate from their own rooftop solar panels. This overview examines the key issues raised by utilities concerning fairness of NEM programs as well as the range of responses thus far offered by regulators and scholars exploring the contours of NEM policies. Following the overview, this chapter then argues that the narrow issues that have become the heart of the NEM debates—namely, the value of distributed energy generation to the electricity grid and unfairness to utility customers who do not participate in NEM programs—obfuscate the deeper equity concerns embedded within the current energy system, and mask the broader transformative potential of rooftop solar power.
Keywords: Metering, Solar Power, Net Energy Metering, NEM, Energy Justice
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