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New Report Offers Resources to Help States Maximize the Benefits of Solar Power

November 10,2016

WASHINGTON – As interest in residential rooftop solar expands, utility commissions need to consider how to encourage solar growth while treating all customers – solar and non-solar alike – fairly. Can both goals be met simultaneously? Yes, but too few policymakers have the tools necessary to make informed decisions that meet those goals. In a new report, produced by Synapse Energy Economics for Consumers Union, the advocacy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports, provides utility commissions and other decision makers with the analytic tools needed to better understand how various solar policies can impact their communities.

“When consumers choose to go solar, there is great potential for benefits and cost savings. But there must be policies in place to ensure customers are treated fairly,“ said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, policy counsel for Consumers Union. “This tool will help states provide consumers with reliable information and the safeguards they need when considering solar for their homes.”

In order to develop policies that best meet the needs of local communities, policymakers should collect data and perform analysis that will answer three key questions:

  • How will the policy affect the growth of distributed solar?
  • How cost-effective are distributed solar resources?
  • To what extent does the policy mitigate or exacerbate any cost shifting to non-solar customers?

The new report, Show Me the Numbers: A Framework for Balanced Distributed Solar Policies, provides a detailed look at how decision-makers can assess each of the key questions to provide a comprehensive, balanced understanding of the impact of different solar policies. For example, forecasting how long it will take for customers to recoup the costs of installing solar panels under certain policies or rate designs can determine how likely solar will grow. Short payback periods encourage faster adoption, while longer payback periods slow down growth.

Understanding the impact on non-solar customers is also critical to designing an equitable program. Certain solar policies can cause electric bills to increase or decrease, depending on many factors, including load growth and utility cost forecasts. Assessing both the long-term and short-term rate impacts will help policymakers craft policies that are fair to all residents.

“As we look to a clean energy future, policymakers should adopt a comprehensive process for assessing solar policies and rate design,” said Baker-Branstetter. “Using this framework will help states embrace clean energy solutions to meet their energy needs in a transparent, data-driven process.”

The findings from this report will presented by 128th Annual Meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) in La Quinta, CA on November 13. The gathering brings together top public utility commission officials from across the country address a range of issues facing, including utility rate design, grid reliability and encouraging innovation in energy policy.


Contact: Jason Kuruvilla, Jason.kuruvilla@consumer.org, 202-462-6262

Consumers Union is the public policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports.  Consumers Union works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization.  Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually.  Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications.