Westar Energy finds itself in something of a public relations bind: to appear to be a friend to the solar industry Westar must charge its other customers more than they would otherwise pay for power.
In an ideal world Westar would simply do what is fair. In the highly politicized and regulated world of alternative energy, however, Westar cannot ignore a media that will inevitably side with solar enthusiasts, even if those enthusiasts demand something for nothing.
At the heart of Westar’s dilemma is the unreliability of solar power. If users of sun power were responsible for making their own arrangements for back-up at market prices, or if Westar could drop these users as customers, there would be no need for legislation. There is a logic to solar power’s simplicity, but there is nothing simple about the government interference needed to sustain the industry.
As of now, Westar is obliged to provide enough electricity to meet the power needs of these customers whenever they need it even if the customers do not end up using the power.
In short, Westar loses money with customers who pull most of their power from the sun. Given that reality, the company is asking the Kansas Corporation Commission for the right to add a new charge to solar customers for their stand-by electricity needs.
“What we want to ensure is that when customers do make that choice that they are paying their fare share of the cost of the electric grid,” Westar vice president of regulated affairs, Jeff Martin, told Brian Grimmett of the Kansas News Service.
Needless to say, the solar industry is not happy. Its advocates have proposed a bill that would force Westar to charge solar customers the same rate per kilowatt hour as non-solar customers. Aron Cromwell, the owner of one of the largest solar retailers in Kansas, told members of the Senate Utility Committee that Westar’s new charge could derail the industry in Kansas.
“The utilities will establish new solar rates that are designed to remove the financial benefit from producing your own energy on your own property,” Cromwell said.
What Cromwell fails to acknowledge, however, is that the “financial benefit” to the solar customer is being subsidized by the customer’s neighbors. This subsidy comes on top of all of the money-back rebates, grants, tax credits, and tax exemptions available to solar users in Kansas.
Solar users already get to pat themselves on the back for saving the planet from climate change. One would think that would be reward enough.