I wrote the following article a few months ago that appeared in the U.K. Guardian. I decided to re-post it in my diary.
I am a lifelong conservative and, also, a strong advocate for solar energy. As I travel the country advocating for solar using a free-market message, I am seeing an awakening among conservatives in this area. There are many areas that conservatives and progressives strongly disagree on, but both are united in a desire to pass on a legacy of true energy independence to future generations of Americans. The right to solar energy is an American issue – not a partisan one.
America was founded on the principles of liberty and freedom, but unfortunately in many states there are regulatory barriers erected by the government that prohibits the freedom of choice for utility customers – especially when it comes to switching to solar.
Most electric power companies have been granted monopoly status by virtue of legislation that grants these companies the exclusive right to sell electric power in their territory. They have a perfect setup in their business model. They have a government-assigned customer base whom they are able to bill for capital investments, thereby making a guaranteed profit. The more new power plants cost, the more money they make.
The average consumer can now, in theory, install solar panels on their rooftops. Solar prices have plummeted in recent years and solar is now cost effective. But there are too many penalties in place that punish consumers who want to switch to solar. For example, in Florida a property tax is added that makes solar uncompetitive to the monopolies. Net Metering allows solar users to sell excess power generated back to the grid and recover the costs of their solar panels much faster. But in states like Wisconsin, the monopolies pay wholesale rate and not retail rate. This is very unfair to solar users because they are prohibited from selling excess power to anyone other than the monopolies.
This amounts to prohibiting competition from rooftop solar and denying consumers the freedom to choose.
We should all experience the freedom that comes from generating our own power and should have the right to sell the excess power generated on our private property. That would unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans, drive innovation and also create jobs in a stagnate economy.
But monopolies want to prevent that from happening. Industry trade group Edison Electric Institute deceptively claimed in a report that if solar users buy less power then non-solar users will see an increase in their power bills to make up for the loss of revenue. This is similar to a hospital seeking to ban fitness clubs because the members would be healthy and therefore need fewer visits to the hospital.
There is a big battle brewing in Florida over the freedom to choose. Conservatives and progressives have come together to fight for free-market principles in energy. They are pushing for a Constitutional amendment that would provide Floridians the choice to purchase solar-generated electricity from a non-utility solar provider – up to 2 megawatts in size. This gives Florida’s families and businesses the right to freely engage in commerce of solar power and take greater control of their energy future.
That does not sit well with companies like Florida Power and Light (FPL) and other electric companies, who have turned to their close allies like Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and James Taylor of Heartland Institute to keep Floridians shackled to these powerful monopolies. FPL has even hatched an alternative solar ballot initiative intended to confuse voters and derail the Floridians for Solar Choice ballot initiative. Conservatives are out front fighting back against the covert attempts at deception by FPL and its allies. We polled 600 Florida registered voters in October of 2014. Our polling data showed that 71% of Florida Republican Primary voters support third-party sales of solar power. Our message is winning.
Free-market principles are cherished by conservatives, and they don’t like the unrestricted power granted to these powerful monopolies by the government. If you show conservatives that solar is the perfect vehicle to advance competition in energy, you would be surprised at just how receptive they are.
My home state of Georgia is a very “red” state but solar is flourishing there, recently ranked at the top for creating new solar jobs. The big surprise is that solar has advanced because of the leadership of conservative Republican elected officials like “Bubba” McDonald and Representative Michael Dudgeon. Georgia just passed a third-party solar bill that sailed through the legislature without one dissenting vote.
That’s quite an accomplishment in this day of partisanship.