John Farrell on Why It Costs More For Utilities to Sell Power

For over a hundred years our civilization has been getting electricity from centralized generation. This utility business model relies on remote power plants fueled originally by coal, oil and gas — and now increasingly by wind and solar.

But the development of inexpensive rooftop solar power over the past 20 years is changing this central generation paradigm. It is now cheaper for homes and businesses to generate their own electricity on their rooftop, and only stay connected to the utility for night time power. These Distributed Generation (DG) solar power systems are connected on the customer’s side of the meter, or referred to as Behind the Meter (BTM) from a utility’s perspective.

Utilities generate their profits by selling power, as well as owning the power plants and utility power lines. When customers generate their own power, utilities lose revenues. Moreover, when customers pay for their own solar generating systems, utilities do not get to own additional generating assets – further reducing their profits. This loss of revenues and profits is disrupting the conventional Investor Owned Utility (IOU) business.

Utilities claim that there are costs being shifted from solar customer to non-solar customers. This cost shift argument is nonsense, since in reality the utilities are trying to regain their lost profits from solar customers by increasing rates for everyone else. Think about it: since utility customers are going elsewhere for the utility’s product (electricity), utilities are raising prices for everyone else. Nice work if you can get it.

The trend towards BTM solar (and now battery storage) is inexorable as these technologies continue to get cheaper. The aptly named Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) focuses on these technology and sociological transitions. Our guest on this week’s Energy Show is John Farrell. John directs the energy program at ILSR and is best known for his research and papers on economics and benefits of local ownership of decentralized renewable energy. John is one of our best thinkers and communicators on this subject, so Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show for his commentary on the superior economics of Behind the Meter solar and storage.