Freedom of speech, a speedy and fair trial by jury, protection against unreasonable searches and seizures; these are a few of the 10 basic rights that American citizens have come to cherish over the years since their inclusion in the constitution. The original bill of rights symbolizes the importance of individual freedoms and fairness which has become the hallmark of American society.
The rights to produce and have access to clean energy are not often identified as basic rights. This is something the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) intends to change. SEIA has been working hard to make rights such as producing solar energy, connecting solar energy systems to the existing electricity grid, and net-metering solar energy systems commonplace for all Americans. In a new campaign titled “Solar Bill of Rights,” SEIA addresses some of the major barriers preventing solar from becoming more mainstream. The campaign’s goal is to raise awareness about the inequalities within the energy sector and recommend measures intended to level the energy playing field within the U.S.
The rationale behind the “Solar Bill of Rights” is largely derived from on the basic American economic principle of free and fair competition. Rhone Resch, CEO and President of SEIA, states that the Bill is a call for the “freedom to compete” and that it provides consumers with the “freedom to choose their energy source.” To help provide this freedom of choice, the Bill mandates that all residential solar energy systems be compensated at full retail rates for all excess electricity production. Currently, nearly forty states plus the District of Columbia have net metering programs in place although their respective size and scope vary widely, leaving many solar producers without the adequate compensation for energy production used by others on local grids.
Net metering programs allow consumers to generate electricity at their homes and businesses, for example from solar panels on their roof. This electricity can be used to offset purchased electricity from the grid. SEIA’s Bill supports a single national standard for net metering which would provide assurance and additional incentive to solar energy producers worried about what to do with unused energy. A national standard would also reassure homeowners concerned with the long-term perspective of solar energy and its future role within the US energy portfolio.
Mr. Resch comments that “the full promise of solar power is being restrained by the tyranny of policies that protect our competitors, subsidize wealthy polluters and disadvantage green entrepreneurs.” Several rights of SEIA’s bill highlight and condemn government patronage of the oil & gas sector. One right mandates equal government subsidies to energy sectors. A 2009 report by the Environmental Law Institute found that from 2002-2008, the fossil fuel sector received $70.2 billion worth of subsidies while the renewable sector only received $12.2 billion. SEIA demands that energy sources be awarded subsidies based on “their full, life-cycle costs and benefits to society.” Because government subsidies are partially distributed using taxpayer dollars, this demand directly appeals to all Americans interested in the development of solar and other renewable energy technologies and ensuring free and fair competition within the energy sector.
Another right pinpointing energy inequality within federal government policy calls for the development of solar energy on publicly owned land. According to SEIA, 13 million acres of public land is devoted to oil & gas operations while zero acres have been granted for solar development despite the fact that the U.S. has some of the best solar resources in the world. (Please visit http://www.seia.org/galleries/default-image/PVMap_USGermanySpain.jpg for a map illustrating the enormous solar potential of the U.S. compared to Germany and Spain, two world leaders in installed solar energy). By avoiding the development of solar on public land, the federal government is forgoing some of the best solar resources in the world and forgoing the benefits of an enormously abundant, efficient, renewable, and clean energy resource. Given a fair chance, the U.S. has the raw potential to easily surpass the current world leaders in solar energy production.
Not content with staying on the periphery of the U.S. energy scene, the Bill reflects the determination of the solar industry to compete with larger energy producers. All they are asking for is a fair fight. SEIA dedicates the bill, “Not on behalf of our companies, but on behalf of our customers and our country. We seek no more than the freedom to compete on equal terms and no more than the liberty for consumers to choose the energy source they think best.” According to SEIA, 92% of Americans think it is “important to develop & use solar energy.” With this level of backing, the Solar Bill of Rights looks set to serve as an important first step in gaining equality for solar energy.
If you would like to view the complete list of the Solar Bill of Rights and possibly add your signature, please visit http://www.solarbillofrights.us/solar-bill-of-rights.html#1. Prominent signatories of the Bill include Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Bill Richardson.