MAILBOX: Renewable Energy Rights

Beginner

Modern rooftop PV systems are a simple and an efficient way to generate electricity. Modern PV inverters are designed to match the grid and will only generate electricity when connected to the utility. My electric company in Kansas (Westar Energy, which has almost 700,000 ratepayers) declares these systems as a “significant advancement in technology” but, in their annual report to the stockholders, list rooftop solar as a “risk” to their business since people can generate electricity as cheaply as they can. To eliminate the competition, Westar has petitioned the Kansas regulatory agency to add fees onto distributed generators (rooftop solar). Their desire is to put all solar customers into a rate class which could add $30 or even more to the monthly bills.

Can the utility companies kill rooftop solar or do we have the right (or duty) to put a few panels on our roof? The founders of Home Power magazine, Richard and Karen Perez, coined the term “guerrilla solar.” Here is the guerilla solar manifesto: “We, the solar guerrillas of this planet, resolve to place energy made from sunshine…on the utility grids with or without permission…or financial compensation. We further resolve that our renewable energy systems will be safe and will not harm utility workers…”

Mark Cooper, chairman of the Consumer Federation of America, provided legal precedence for this right when he cited the 1968 Federal Communications Commission’s decision against AT&T. The Carterfone decision allowed the public to plug into the phone lines, thereby ushering in an explosion of technological innovation.

Placing a few PV modules on your roof may not eliminate your electric bill, but it will help lower your purchased consumption of coal-generated electricity. Even if your local utility generates renewable electricity, rooftop solar has the major advantage of not requiring additional land; utility-scale PV installations usually destroy agricultural land or wildlife habitat.

Rooftop solar can be a benefit to all rate payers when it is efficiently incorporated into the modern grid. If utility companies choose to stifle rooftop solar, then we have the right and the moral obligation to put panels on our roof without permission, guilt, or fear of reprisal.

Robert Rosenberg • Manhattan, Kansas

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