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Net-metering for dummies: Explaining the rooftop solar scam

Because of the unrelenting cries of anguish emanating from the rooftop solar industry about how Big Bad NV Energy is trying to kill 6,000 solar industry jobs, maybe you’re thinking you should try to learn something about the brouhaha.

But then every time the term “net-metering” is mentioned your eyes glaze over like a Homer Simpson donut.

Yes, it can be complicated.   But not if you think about a $4 cup of Starbucks coffee.  Let me ‘splain…

If you purchase a rooftop solar system, the system will allow you to make your own electricity so you won’t have to buy it from NV Energy.  The problem is, you can only make your own electricity when the sun is shining bright on your solar panels.

Until battery technology advances further, you’ll still have to buy electricity for your home from NV Energy for nighttime use and cloudy days.  Still, you won’t have to buy electricity for daytime use, so your NV Energy bill will be significantly less.

So here’s what should be the simple question: Will I save enough money by making my own electricity during the day to cover the cost of purchasing and installing a rooftop solar system.  And the answer to that is…probably not.  The cost of a rooftop solar system is so expensive that it probably doesn’t make financial sense.

Enter Big Government.

“Green” liberal environmentalists are hell-bent on forcing everyone to give up cheap, plentiful, dependable fossil fuel energy and switch over to “clean” renewables…no matter how much it costs!

As such, the government decided to subsidize the cost of purchasing rooftop solar systems – using taxpayer dollars to make that which makes no financial sense make financial sense at taxpayer expense.

This makes expensive rooftop solar systems affordable, at taxpayer expense, for folks for whom rooftop solar is not affordable.

Do you see how screwed up this is making the market already before we even get to “net-metering”?

Now to explain net-metering, let’s get back to our $4 cup of Starbuck’s coffee. (Disclaimer: I “stole” this analogy from a friend who knows a heckuva lot more about this issue than I do.)

Let’s say you go to Starbucks every morning and buy a $4 cup of coffee.  But then one day the government starts a program that subsidizes the purchase of a commercial-grade coffee maker in your home.  You buy one and, as such, no longer need to buy your $4 cup of coffee from Starbucks.

But here’s the thing: Your new coffee maker makes more coffee than you drink every morning. So you have a bunch of coffee left over.

Of course, common sense way to look at this situation is that you’re saving $4 day.  And if you make more coffee than you need, oh well.  Use it or lose it.

But that’s not how the government sees it.

The government wants people to buy these new commercial-grade home coffee makers.  So here’s what it does: It passes a law that says Starbucks has to purchase the extra coffee that people who buy these new home coffee makers generate.

Whoa, whoa, WHOA!  They can’t do that, can they?

Well, they can if they’re the government.

Of course, ours is a kind and compassionate government (yeah, right), so it won’t force Starbucks to buy every last drop of extra home-made coffee that you brew.  Instead, it sets an arbitrary limit: Starbucks only will be forced to buy the first 235 gallons of extra home-made coffee generated by the new coffee makers.

But of course, since this is the government we’re talking about here, we have to make it even more complicated, as well.  Just for fun.

So instead of forcing Starbucks to pay you directly for your extra coffee, Starbucks is forced to issue you a “credit” for each cup of unused coffee you “sell” back to the store.  And those credits can be used to buy Starbucks coffee if and when you find yourself in need of buying theirs instead of drinking yours.

So even though Starbucks neither needs nor wants to buy your extra coffee, the government has passed a law forcing them to do so.

But instead of getting cash for your unused and unwanted coffee, Starbucks is forced to give you, essentially, a gift card that you can use to get free or reduced Starbucks coffee whenever you find yourself in a position of not wanting or having your own home-made coffee.

That, folks, is “net-metering.”

People with rooftop solar systems generate more electricity during the day than they can use.  And the government has passed laws forcing NV Energy to buy up to 235 megawatts of home-made electricity from rooftop solar homeowners even though the utility doesn’t want it or need it and can generate the same electricity cheaper.

But instead of paying for the electricity directly, rooftop solar customers get “net-metering” gift cards which they can use to pay for the electricity they use at night when their rooftop solar systems are completely useless.

Look, if you want to save the planet and save yourself some money during the daytime by installing a rooftop solar system on your house, vunderbar.

But taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing your purchase of your rooftop solar system any more than taxpayers should subsidize your purchase of a commercial coffee maker.  And NV Energy shouldn’t be forced to buy your extra home-made electricity anymore than Starbucks should be forced to buy your extra coffee.

If you don’t want to lose that unused electricity, then call Tesla and tell them to hurry up and develop an affordable home battery system.  In the meantime, get off the Public Utility Commission’s (PUC) back.