Con Edison solar rules help customers escape high prices


The sun is shining on the solar power business in New York City and Westchester County. One reason is that many people have found that installing solar panels is a good way to beat Con Edison’s high residential and commercial prices. But Con Ed deserves credit: It’s pursuing policies that make going solar easier for its customers.

In 2014, solar panels in Con Ed territory were capable of producing 59.82 megawatts of power. So far in 2015, Con Ed customers have added another 7.7 megawatts. That’s 210 times more solar than was on the system in 2005. When the sun is out, Con Ed solar customers generate enough power for around 27,000 homes. More than 4,700 Con Ed residential and business customers now have rooftop solar setups, the company said in a recent news release.

Con Edison solar growthEveryone watching the utility business expects solar to boom in New York and elsewhere. High utility prices aren’t the only factor. The cost of installing solar panels is falling. A home solar setup can cost $30,000 or more. But the solar industry has come up with financing plans that bring the monthly cost to below your utility bill.

It’s not easy for some utility companies to handle the growth. In Hawaii, sky-high electricity prices helped solar grow so fast, utility companies had a hard time accommodating the power put into the grid by rooftop solar panels.¬†Elsewhere, utilities have fought home solar. Florida adds irony to its Sunshine State nickname with state laws that effectively shut out the rooftop solar panel industry. The state’s utility companies have pushed back hard against anything that makes it easy for homeowners to install rooftop panels.

In New York, the big fight came in the 1990s, when Gov. George Pataki’s administration deregulated electric markets via orders from the Public Service Commission. Many people in the utility industry hated the move, and some [rightly] complained that the state acted without enough public input, especially from the Legislature. Deregulation has probably cost utility customers billions.

But New York’s move may pay off in ways unforeseen at the time it took effect. Deregulation took Con Edison and other utility companies out of the power generation business. Now Con Ed is agnostic about where electricity is generated. The company sees that enabling customers to better use its transmission system is an important goal of its business. For many, the power grid works two ways: They get credit when their solar panels put power into the grid, and pay when they take power out.

And the Public Service Commission is studying new regulations aimed at making it easier for residential and commercial utility customers to use solar and other energy-generating technology. This document offers an easy-to-understand explanation of the aims of the Reforming the Energy Vision effort.

But even without Reforming the Energy Vision, state rules have already let Con Ed customers expand their solar use. In 2014, the company says, 2,138 of its New York City customers installed solar panels; another 1,484 customers installed panels in Westchester. The technology is here, it can save you money, and New York policymakers are trying to make it easy to use.

Update, April 29: This post was edited for clarity.

About Bill Sanderson

I'm a New York-based journalist, and a former reporter at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire, the Bergen Record in New Jersey, and the New York Post. My work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, and Politico New York. Twitter: @wpsanderson.
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