CPS Energy Needs To Continue To Provide Diverse Solar Programs

By DeeDee Belmares

The following piece first appeared in the San Antonio Express-News

Solar energy promises a brighter and cleaner future for San Antonio. But San Antonio’s electric utility, CPS Energy, proposed scrapping important financial incentives that accelerate solar adoption. Ending the incentives, potentially as soon as this summer, would threaten our progress toward a healthier environment and meeting our energy demand.

Solar has to become more accessible, with a large and increasing portion of solar adopters having low to moderate incomes. Research by the Berkeley Lab shows that in Texas, as of 2020, 24 percent of solar adopters earned $50,000 or less per year, and another 38 percent earned between $50,000 and $100,000 per year. Not only are households with low to moderate incomes adopting solar, but they are also an increasingly significant percentage of solar adopters. Those earning at or below the median income for their county of residence increased from 26.4 percent in 2010 to 39.4 percent in 2020, with much of that increase coming in recent years.

A full 80 percent of installations in those households examined in another Berkeley Lab study would not have occurred without incentives.

Declining costs and incentives such as those currently offered by CPS Energy bring solar within reach of a broader range of household incomes. But we haven’t reached equitable access yet. Removing incentives for rooftop solar just as lower-income residents have a chance to benefit would harm our progress.

Rooftop solar benefits all of us, even if not everyone has it on their property. An analysis conducted by the Brattle Group of all CPS Energy’s efficiency and incentive programs shows the solar program has the best cost-benefit ratio, with almost five times more benefits to the utility than the costs of the programs. It is true that another cost-benefit test conducted in the same analysis showed a much less favorable result. However, it included costs voluntarily incurred by customers who participated in the programs but not all the benefits that those same customers received.

Lastly, net metering — when surplus solar power is transferred to the grid, giving residents with solar a break on their bill — is fair compensation for energy produced by rooftop solar systems. Many studies show the value provided to the utility is more than the customer receives with net metering.

Incentive programs like those offered by CPS Energy and across the country are not perfect, and we should all be open to discussing ways to improve them and make them more accessible. We cannot afford to go backward; getting rid of these programs is not the answer.

CPS Energy should retain solar incentives for those earning up to the median household income, as well as create new programs to expand access to rooftop solar for renters, and apartment and condominium dwellers. CPS Energy started that work with its SolarHostSA pilot program, which offered rooftop solar at no cost to the property owner. The program was popular, and now is the time to roll out the next iteration. Expanding solar offerings will ensure we continue this path toward full equitable access to rooftop solar.

San Antonio can be a leader on solar, and our energy utility can and should lead by incentivizing the acceleration of solar adoption with a diverse set of programs.

DeeDee Belmares is the San Antonio climate justice organizer for Public Citizen’s Texas office, which advocates for clean energy, the environment, and good government.