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WASHINGTON, July 16, 2020 – Federal energy regulators dealt big electric utilities a big blow today, dismissing a bid by an industry front group that could have ended payments from utilities to rooftop solar customers. At the same time, they gutted a law that since 1978 has required utilities to buy power from small renewable projects.

All four members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted to dismiss a petition by the Northeast Ratepayers Association, or NERA, that would have stripped states of the right to require net metering, through which utilities compensate rooftop solar owners for energy they return to the grid. NERA, which refuses to divulge its membership, asked FERC to assume that authority, which could have drastically reduced such payments, undermining the incentive for consumers and businesses to invest in solar. 

“This was obviously yet another attempt by the electric utility industry to crush customer-owned solar,” said EWG Senior Energy Policy Advisor Grant Smith. “The unanimous decision by FERC is a big victory for solar energy and the environment, and a well-deserved rebuke for NERA and the big utilities behind it.”

FERC chairman Neil Chatterjee said NERA’s petition “does not identify a specific controversy or harm the commission should address in a declaratory order.”

Utilities across the country have long tried to use their political clout to stamp out net metering. For seven years, their national lobbying organization has called net metering and energy efficiency the biggest threat to utility profits.

State governments and regulators, attorneys general, renewable trade organizations and advocacy organizations, including EWG, lined up against NERA, which was the lone voice in favor of its ill-conceived, underhanded gambit against utility customers.

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But by a 3-1 vote, FERC issued a final rule significantly weakening the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act, or PURPA. It was passed during the Carter administration to expand competition and boost renewable energy generation. The vote today will make it more difficult to finance solar projects, because the rates for solar operations utilities have to pay will likely be much lower. 

FERC Commissioner Richard Glick, the lone dissenting vote, warned that the changes amounted to “gutting the heart of PURPA,” and E&E News said the move ”spells trouble for independent renewable penetration in the West and Southeast, where PURPA has enabled solar energy to flourish.”

“Electric utility companies have lobbied hard against net metering for the same reasons they’ve gone after PURPA,” said Smith. “Both policies have been successful at promoting renewables that aren’t under utility control and ownership.”

The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. www.ewg.org