Syria isn't the only battle into which President Obama is injecting himself. True, on a global scale, Arizona's fight over net metering seems insignificant. However, on a personal scale, what is taking place in Arizona's sunny desert has the potential to directly impact far more Americans than the shots being fired in Syria's desert.
Syria's conflict is often called a proxy war in that it is an indirect confrontation between superpowers via substitute actors. According to the definition of a proxy war found on the "Intro to global security" blog, "Modern non-state actors do not necessarily want to take over territory or a government; most use the expanding global communication network to levy resources (human or otherwise) and generate wealth and political/ideological power." By that definition, Arizona's net metering debate is Obama's proxy war in the desert.
Net metering is the process through which homeowners with rooftop solar panels are paid by the local utility company for the excess power they produce. Sales pitches for rooftop solar often explain net metering as "the electric meter running backwards."
In the mid 2000s states began passing renewable portfolio standards (RPS) that required predetermined percentages of electricity be generated from renewable sources. To meet the mandates, utility companies agreed to pay, what essentially amounts to, full retail rates for the excess electricity being generated by the solar panels. Often the combination of the electricity the homeowner buys from the utility (at night) and what they sell back (during the day) gives them a utility bill of nearly zero. Yet they are still using power from the electric company; they are still plugged into the grid. Grid maintenance, transmission lines and transformers, customer service, and other costs that are part of providing consistent, steady electricity to homes and businesses have historically been borne by everyone using it. Most people don't think about it; it is just part of the bill.
Anyone who has ever owned a business, knows that you won't survive for long when you are buying your product at retail and selling it for retail, as there are many additional costs between wholesale and retail. Yet, this is what utility companies are being forced to do through the net metering agreements that were made back when solar was in its infancy and customers needed to be incentivized to install solar panels so that the utility could purchase the power to meet the mandates. When there were only a few solar installations, the loss to the utility had a very small impact. But now, with the numbers increasing, the loss is larger. That loss is being carried by the entire rate base and taking money from family budgets.
Even the New York Times acknowledges that the economics of rooftop solar "depend on government incentives and mandates." All Arizonians are paying for the few who can afford the up-front costs of solar panel installation -- not just through the taxpayer-funded state and federal subsidies, but through their increasing utility rates that are unfairly punishing those who can least afford them.
The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) is currently considering revising the generous credits offered to customers with rooftop solar -- as are other states. The ACC has two plans before it aimed at making up for the lost revenues without the majority of the rate base having to subsidize their wealthier neighbors. One has residential solar customers selling electricity to the grid paying a monthly "convenience fee" for the use and maintenance of the grid and the related expenses. The second, would reduce the credit, which customers with new solar installations would receive, making it comparable to market rates the utility pays other power generators. Those who currently (installed up through mid-October) have rooftop systems would be "grandfathered" in.
Subsidy-loving President Obama has launched an Arizona-specific campaign lauding those who have made "the switch" to solar and demanding that the ACC protects "full credit for clean energy." If solar users paid for the panels on their own and cut the cord to the utility, then they truly have made the switch -- as the rules stand now, they are just milking the system.
Obama's involvement shows how important Arizona is to his desired national energy policy -- supporting the inefficient, ineffective, and uneconomical models that line the pockets of his friends, while punishing the energy that makes America great. He is using the "global communication network to levy resources (human or otherwise) and generate wealth and political/ideological power." If the reverse Robin Hood policies are modified, the surging purchase and installation of solar panels will slow. It is in Obama's best interest to keep these policies that only exist because they "depend on government incentives and mandates" in place -- but it is not in Arizona's best interest, nor America's. These policies "generate wealth" for Obama's friends and "political/ideological power" for him.
It is not about whether or not you like rooftop-generated solar electricity, it is about whether the subsidized industry continues to make solar executives rich on the back of the average American. It is about continuing, or ending, the crony corruption that fills the solar industry.
The saying is usually "as California goes, so goes the nation." In the case of generous solar credits, as Arizona goes, so goes the nation -- which is why Obama's proxy war in the desert has the potential to directly impact far more Americans than the shots being fired in Syria's desert.
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE).