Rooftop Solar Brings Real Freedom

Despite the never-ending whining by antiquated adherents to fossil fuel-generated electricity, the good news is that rooftop solar is providing more real freedom for millions of Americans than those shackled to their oil gas, and coal collars.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding — and there’s simply no doubt that roof-top solar’s “behind the meter” generation is providing freedom not only from the ever-rising prices for fossil fuel electricity, but also from the enormous pollution it spews into the atmosphere.

Take for instance, the recent article: Rooftop solar was overlooked. Now it’s closing a New England power plant. “Officials at ISO New England, which oversees the six-state power market, concluded after months of research that the region’s power grid has been strengthened by cold-weather sunlight, an unanticipated finding that adds fuel to a growing debate over the impact that renewable energy has on the nation’s labyrinth of power plants and transmission lines. The findings stand to alter regulators’ view of rooftop solar, which many had seen as a small and unpredictable source of energy.”

As noted in the article: “Rooftop solar conserves the region’s oil supplies. ISO New England estimates that every 700 MW of solar capacity reduces oil consumption by 7 to 10 million gallons or gas demand by 1 to 1.5 billion cubic feet. The grid operator said it had around 5,400 MW of solar online at the end of last year. The vast majority of that is on rooftops.

“The influx of solar has paved the way for the retirement of one of New England’s dirtiest power plants. Mystic Generating Station, the third-largest power plant in the region, is slated to close next summer.” That gas-powered plant produces a mere 25% of the electricity now coming from rooftop solar — but “reported total carbon emissions of 17 million tons between 2013 and 2022.”

In more good news, the federal government, which has been subsidizing fossil fuels with billions of taxpayer dollars for a century, has “seen the light” of direct investment in rooftop solar.  As reported in The Hill last week: “The Biden administration on Wednesday announced a $7 billion grant competition to expand access to residential solar energy in low-income communities. The EPA said the grants will guarantee savings of at least 20% on electric bills for households that benefit. Applications will be open to states, municipalities, territories and tribal governments through Sep. 26.”

Known as the Solar for All program, the grants — not loans or tax incentives — run from $25 million to $400 million, more than enough to provide roof-top solar to any of Montana’s communities, especially those with chronically low incomes where it’s most needed.

Given the recent large increases in electricity costs requested by NorthWestern Energy and approved by the “captured regulatory agency” known as the Public Service Commission, it makes no sense for the governor or Legislature to continue efforts to prop up the old, failing, and highly-polluting anachronism known as Colstrip.

It’s truly difficult to understand the resistance to solar when the latest polls show two-thirds of Western states’ residents support moving to 100% clean energy, particularly in light of the ever-increasing and expensive impacts from climate change.  Despite the critics, rooftop solar is like a beehive – no one bee brings in all the pollen to make honey, but together, each individual provides a small share to keep the hive nourished.

As one friend who runs his house and car off his solar panels quipped recently: “I like being my own power plant.” Indeed, those who have panels know exactly what he’s saying. They all “like being their own power plant” — especially when their power bills arrive.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.