An electric co-op serving over 360,000 households across Central Texas is under fire for restructuring its solar customers’ rates. But without the change, all Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) customers face higher bills in order to subsidize the few who choose to install solar panels on their homes.
With prices for home heating, gasoline, and most goods and services sharply rising already, PEC is right to address this problem and ensure Texans aren’t saddled with needlessly higher electric bills.
Customers who voluntarily chose solar-specific electric plans are up in arms. However, the rest of PEC’s members are currently bearing solar users’ costs of transmitting the electricity they generate — which rarely happens during the times the grid needs it most. Without realizing it, ordinary families have been subsidizing solar customers to the tune of over $1 million per year. As Texas’ population grows and solar increases in popularity (fueled largely by federal subsidies that reward solar without demanding reliability), this burden will only continue to increase.
Most cooperatives are not-for-profit entities with a fiduciary responsibility to treat all their members equitably. This means they must keep rates as low as possible and pass on only direct costs to their customers — and one group of members cannot subsidize another.
Unfortunately, subsidies have become so common and entrenched at all levels of government that they hardly raise eyebrows anymore. But it’s simple fairness that the majority shouldn’t be expected to pay for the personal choices of a small, select few.
Solar customers might argue that the relatively small cost (in the grand scheme of things) is worth it to encourage more renewable energy on the grid. However, the fundamental physics of solar generation mean it can only be relied on for supplemental electricity.
As obvious as it might seem, solar panels only generate electricity when the sun is shining. This can make solar a useful contributor to the grid during clear, cloudless days, but it can never become a primary power source because solar patterns don’t align with peak electric demand patterns. In Central Texas, solar production generally peaks midday, but electric use peaks in the evening when most people have arrived home and are preparing dinner. In both scenarios, solar produces a lot of electricity when we don’t need it — and not enough when we do.
The solution isn’t as simple as battery storage, as convenient as that sounds. Utility-scale batteries are still extremely rare, bulky, and expensive. Even the massive expansion of batteries projected by the Energy Information Administration is barely a drop in the bucket.
Because of these fundamental realities, fossil fuels — which can produce more or less power at any given time to align with demand — will remain our most reliable, affordable, and abundant source of energy for generations at least.
What, then, about climate change? There’s good news and bad news.
Let’s start with the bad news: the lines we’re being fed by the media about catastrophic warming and pleas to transition away from fossil fuels are wrong. Ironically, given the constant demand to “follow the science,” they aren’t even supported by climate science. Globally accepted climate data models show that even eliminating all fossil fuel consumption — for transportation as well as electricity — would have next to no effect on climate change.
But here’s the good news: Humanity is well equipped to handle any challenges thrown our way, climate-related or otherwise. Over the last century, climate-related deaths have dropped by 98% even as average temperatures have slightly increased. We’re becoming far more resilient thanks to improving technology, free-market innovation, and a healthy respect for the environment we’re blessed with.
Want more good news? Just look into the incredible progress made in fighting poverty, advancing public health and life expectancy, increasing access to education, economic freedom, and improving lives around the world in recent decades. Our future — climate change or no climate change — is bright indeed.
In Central Texas, PEC is acting responsibly to ensure the costs of solar are borne by the customers who choose to install it, not subsidized against the rest of their customers’ wills. PEC’s customers can rest easy that they won’t be saddled with skyrocketing bills — and that their choice to not invest in solar is equally positive for the world’s future.