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Norway's central bank announced on Wednesday that the Norwegian Government's Pension Fund, worth $900 billion, will no longer invest in Duke Energy.

This decision is the result of an investigation by the Council on Ethics for the pension fund, which found that Duke Energy's failure to adequately respond to its leaking coal ash impoundments in North Carolina constituted "an unacceptable risk of severe environmental damage."

Duke Energy coal ash spill into the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina in February 2014. The spill was the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history.Waterkeeper Alliance

Based on its assessment, the council recommended that Duke Energy be excluded from the fund on ethical grounds. Nearly 4.7 million Duke shares and bonds, valued at $545 million, have been sold by the Norwegian Pension Fund.

In May 2015, I presented data and information to the Norwegian Parliament and Council on Ethics about the extensive and ongoing water pollution from Duke Energy coal ash ponds, advocating that they sell Duke Energy stocks for ethical reasons.

Waterkeeper recently sent a data packet to Norway emphasizing that Duke had not stopped ongoing leaks of heavy metals into drinking water supplies and plans to leave 70 percent of its coal ash in leaking ponds in North Carolina.

I am thrilled that the Council on Ethics determined that Duke's abysmal performance and severe environmental risk still posed by Duke Energy's leaking ash ponds warranted a special divestiture.

Duke Energy joins the list of many companies whose performance is so unacceptable to the Council of Ethics that they are black-listed as unsuitable for investment by one of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds.

Waterkeeper Alliance will continue to present to major institutional shareholders of coal companies to inform them of the unacceptable environmental risk of leaking ash ponds into drinking water supplies. Until this industry finally stops its recalcitrant and illegal behavior, we will continue to advocate for divestment from these major polluters all over the world.

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Through net metering programs, homeowners who have installed solar energy systems can get utility credits for any electricity their panels generate during the day that isn't used to power home systems. These credits can be "cashed in" to offset the cost of any grid electricity used at night.

Where net metering is available, solar panels have a shorter payback period and yield a higher return on investment. Without this benefit, you only save on power bills when using solar energy directly, and surplus generation is lost unless you store it in a solar battery. However, net metering gives you the option of selling any excess electricity that is not consumed within your home.

Generally, you will see more home solar systems in places with favorable net metering laws. With this benefit, going solar becomes an attractive investment even for properties with minimal daytime consumption. Homeowners can turn their roofs into miniature power plants during the day, and that generation is subtracted from their nighttime consumption.

What Is Net Metering?

Net metering is a billing arrangement in which surplus energy production from solar panels is tracked by your electricity provider and subtracted from your monthly utility bill. When your solar power system produces more kilowatt-hours of electricity than your home is consuming, the excess generation is fed back into the grid.

For homeowners with solar panels, the benefits of net metering include higher monthly savings and a shorter payback period. Utility companies also benefit, since the excess solar electricity can be supplied to other buildings on the same electric grid.

If a power grid relies on fossil fuels, net metering also increases the environmental benefits of solar power. Even if a building does not have an adequate area for rooftop solar panels, it can reduce its emissions by using the surplus clean energy from other properties.

How Net Metering Works

There are two general ways net metering programs work:

  1. The surplus energy produced by your solar panels is measured by your utility company, and a credit is posted to your account that can be applied to future power bills.
  2. The surplus energy produced by your solar panels is measured by your home's electricity meter. Modern power meters can measure electricity flow in both directions, so they tick up when you pull from the grid at night and count down when your solar panels are producing an excess amount of electricity.

In either scenario, at the end of the billing period, you will only pay for your net consumption — the difference between total consumption and generation. This is where the term "net metering" comes from.

How Does Net Metering Affect Your Utility Bill?

Net metering makes solar power systems more valuable for homeowners, as you can "sell" any extra energy production to your utility company. However, it's important to understand how charges and credits are managed:

  • You can earn credits for your surplus electricity, but utility companies will not cut you a check for the power you provide. Instead, they will subtract the credits from your power bills.
  • If your net metering credit during the billing period is higher than your consumption, the difference is rolled over to the next month.
  • Some power companies will roll over your credit indefinitely, but many have a yearly expiration date that resets your credit balance.

With all of this in mind, it is possible to reduce your annual electricity cost to zero. You can accumulate credit with surplus generation during the sunny summer months, and use it during winter when solar generation decreases.

You will achieve the best results when your solar power system has just the right capacity to cover your annual home consumption. Oversizing your solar array is not recommended, as you will simply accumulate a large unused credit each year. In other words, you cannot overproduce and charge your power company each month.

Some power companies will let you pick the expiration date of your annual net metering credits. If you have this option, it's wise to set the date after winter has ended. This way, you can use all the renewable energy credits you accumulated during the summer.

Is Net Metering Available Near You?

Net metering offers a valuable incentive for homeowners to switch to solar power, but these types of programs are not available everywhere. Net metering laws can change depending on where you live.

In the U.S., there are mandatory net metering laws in 38 states and Washington, D.C. Most states without a mandate have power companies that voluntarily offer the benefit in their service areas. South Dakota and Tennessee are the only two states with no version of net metering or similar programs.

If net metering is available in your area, you will be credited for your surplus energy in one of two ways:

  • Net metering at retail price: You get full credit for each kilowatt-hour sent to the grid. For example, if you're charged 16 cents per kWh consumed, you'll get a credit of 16 cents per kWh exported. This type of net metering is required by law in 29 states.
  • Net metering at a reduced feed-in tariff: Surplus electricity sent to the grid is credited at a lower rate. For example, you may be charged 16 cents per kWh for consumption but paid 10 cents per kWh exported. Feed-in tariffs and other alternative programs are used in 17 of the states where retail-rate net metering is not mandatory.

Note: This is just a simplified example — the exact kWh retail price and solar feed-in tariff will depend on your electricity plan.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about net metering and other solar power incentives in your state. You can also look for information about solar incentives by visiting the official websites of your state government and utility company.

Other Financial Incentives for Going Solar

Net metering policies are one of the most effective incentives for solar power. However, there are other financial incentives that can be combined with net metering to improve your ROI:

  • The federal solar tax credit lets you claim 26% of your solar installation costs as a tax deduction. For example, if your solar installation had a cost of $10,000, you can claim $2,600 on your next tax declaration. This benefit is available everywhere in the U.S.
  • State tax credits may also be available depending on where you live, and they can be claimed in addition to the federal incentive.
  • Solar rebates are offered by some state governments and utility companies. These are upfront cash incentives subtracted directly from the cost of your solar PV system.

In addition to seeking out solar incentives available to you, you should compare quotes from multiple installers before signing a solar contract. This will ensure you're getting the best deal available and help you avoid overpriced offers and underpriced, low-quality installations. You can start getting quotes from top solar companies near you by filling out the 30-second form below.

Frequently Asked Questions: Solar Net Metering

Why is net metering bad?

When managed correctly, net metering is beneficial for electricity consumers and power companies. There have been cases in which power grids lack the capacity to handle large amounts of power coming from homes and businesses. However, this is an infrastructure issue, not a negative aspect of net metering itself.

In places with a high percentage of homes and businesses using solar panels, surplus generation on sunny days can saturate the grid. This can be managed by modernizing the grid to handle distributed solar power more effectively with load management and energy storage systems.

How does net metering work?

With net metering, any electricity your solar panels produce that isn't used to power your home is fed into your local power grid. Your utility company will pay you for this power production through credits that can be applied to your monthly energy bills.

Can you make money net metering?

You can reduce your power bills with net metering, using surplus solar generation to compensate for your consumption when you can't generate solar power at night and on cloudy days. However, most power companies will not pay you for surplus production once your power bill has dropped to $0. Normally, that credit will be rolled over, to be used in months where your solar panels are less productive.

On very rare occasions, you may be paid for the accumulated balance over a year. However, this benefit is offered by very few electric companies and is subject to limitations.

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Waterkeeper Alliance

By Donna Lisenby

Buriganga Riverkeeper Sharif Jamil and hundreds of his fellow Bangladeshis, including BAPA, the largest civil society platform in Bangladesh for the environment, and the National Committee for Saving Sundarbans (NCSS), are fighting to save the Sundarbans, an irreplaceable world heritage site, from the destruction of a massive new coal-fired power plant. To show the government the size and scale of the opposition, they joined National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources, Power and Ports who organized a five-day, 400-kilometer march from Dhaka to Rampal on Tuesday. Their goal is to stop the Rampal coal-fired power plant and all activities that would destroy the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest. It was designated as a world heritage site because it supports an exceptional number of rare plants and animals including the world famous and endangered Bengal Tiger.

The Sundarbans are not only critical to the survival of wildlife, they are vitally important to the survival of thousands of Bangladesh’s people because they provide a buffer to storm surges, cyclones and food sources. Bangladesh is widely recognized as one of the world’s most vulnerable nations to climate change because it is less than 20 feet above sea level. One of the worst floods in modern history struck the country in September of 1998, killing 1,050 people and making 25 million more homeless. It has been estimated that sea-level rise caused by climate change could result in as many as 30 million climate refugees in Bangladesh. Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of human-made carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

“If constructed, the Rampal coal-fired power plant will not only harm a UNESCO world heritage site and much of the irreplaceable wildlife it contains, but will also fuel ever-faster-rising sea levels that will drown the people of Bangladesh," said Jamil. "Millions of peoples’ lives and livelihoods are at stake.”

The proposed massive 1320 MW Rampal coal-fired power plant is a joint venture involving the Indian state-owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Bangladesh state-owned Power Development Board (PDB). But the burden of the polluted air, water and waste is not jointly shared. Most of it will be borne by the people of Bangladesh while India gets the power. In an excellent analysis, Rampal Coal-Fired Power Plant: Who Gains, Who Loses, Economics Professor Moshahida Sultana Ritu shows just how bad the project is for the people of Bangladesh. Joining Professor Ritu in providing additional argument against construction of the plant is Professor Anu Muhammad. He wrote a scholarly point-by-point decimation of the shoddy, incomplete and inaccurate environmental impact analysis and summarized his review of the process used to site the coal plant in the Sundarbans as a project of deception and mass destruction.

Buriganga Riverkeeper Sharif Jamil (holding microphone) speaks at a public gathering on Sept. 13. Photo credit: National Committee for Saving the Sunderbans

During the 400-kilometer, five-day march, Jamil and Muhammad, along with thousands of citizens and activists, will voice their concerns over the risks the power plant poses to not just the Sunderban’s health, air, water, land and wildlife but to the very survival of Bangladesh as it faces the worst potential impacts of climate change. Waterkeeper Alliance stands in solidarity with all the people of Bangladesh who are marching this week to protect the Sundarbans and their country’s future.

If you are inspired by their courage we urge you to support the Buriganga Riverkeeper organization and the NCSS. The NCSS was created to oppose the government’s move to set up the power plant in Rampal. Jamil, along with a team of young volunteers, have also decided to go on hunger strikes in several places in the country.

“We are in the process of making a larger platform to initiate a peaceful movement with the local people to save the Sundarbans from the Rampal Project,” said Jamil.

“The Sundarbans may be one of the most inappropriate places in the world to build a polluting coal-fired power plant,” said Waterkeeper Alliance’s International Director Sharon Khan. “It would be like building one on top of Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. or at the foot of Uluru in Australia.”

Waterkeeper Alliance calls on conservation organizations all over the world to join the fight to oppose the Rampal coal-fired power plant. The need for international support is urgent because the government of Bangladesh recently announced it would lay the foundation of the power plant on Oct. 22, despite vehement and widespread opposition by environmental activists and other social groups.

Sign the petition to stop the coal-based Rampal power plant and save Sundarban.

Visit EcoWatch’s COAL page for more related news on this topic.

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Waterkeeper Alliance

By Donna Lisenby

Any kid can tell you when Harry Potter takes off his invisibility cloak, he goes from invisible to visible in seconds. Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and other environmental leaders came together in Charlotte, NC, Tuesday to pull the cloak of invisibility off of toxic water pollution from coal-fired power plants across the U.S.

Waterkeeper Alliance, Sierra Club, Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and Clean Water Action led the carefully planned, highly coordinated release of a hard hitting national report, Closing the Floodgates: How the Coal Industry Is Poisoning Our Water and How We Can Stop It.

Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Director Mary Anne Hitt, Environmental Integrity Project Executive Director Eric Schaeffer and Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins show boatloads of reporters an illegal discharge of toxic heavy metals from the Duke Energy Riverbend coal ash pond. The ash pond pond dam at Riverbend leaks at least five bright orange colored streams of waste into Mountain Island Lake daily. Photo credit: Waterkeeper Alliance

And since seeing is believing, they took five boat loads of reporters and news crews up to a bright orange stream of polluted coal waste flowing into Mountain Island Lake, the drinking water source for more than 800,000 people in Charlotte, Mount Holly and Gastonia.

That one-two punch of a detailed technical report coupled with a trip to see the toxic pollution flowing from a coal-fired power plant into a public drinking water reservoir took the invisibility cloak off this hidden pollution problem.

The story was covered by news media outlets all over the country, from Muskogee, OK, to Florence, AL, to the Charlotte Business Journal to New Bedford, MA. It was was also covered by local news stations in Charlotte who showed a great video of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. taking on the coal industry with his local Catawba Riverkeeper, Sam Perkins, who demonstrated the high volume of pollution from Duke Energy:

The environmental groups have plans to keep the industry from slinking back under the invisibility cloak they have been hiding under for the past 31 years. To help highlight the report’s findings and raise awareness about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) critical new coal plant water pollution standards, many local events will be held across the country.

Environmental groups took five boat loads of reporters to see this foully polluted stream of waste leaking from the Duke Energy Riverbend coal-fired power plant coal ash pond dam. Photo credit: Waterkeeper Alliance

From a “toxic lemonade stand” in Pennsylvania to a “Miss and Mr. Toxic Water Swimsuit Competition” in Missouri, and from a kayaking trip outside a coal plant in Oklahoma to a fish-less fish fry in Illinois, activists from coast to coast will be calling for the EPA to finalize the strongest possible standards to protect American families from dangerous toxic water pollution.

If you think it is past time for the U.S. to stop the unlimited discharge of arsenic and other poisons in our waterways, tell the EPA to choose option five during the public comment period on the proposed new rules. Help us keep the truth of their pollution visible so it can be stopped.

Visit EcoWatch’s COAL and WATER pages for more related news on this topic.

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As I walked through the gates of the primary school in Xiangyang City in Hubei Province with Middle Han Waterkeeper, Yun Jianli, I was greeted by six and seven-year-old voices raised in song. They clapped their hands in time to the rhythm of the songs, waved tinsel-studded pom poms and crayon-colored artwork. The songs and the pictures contained messages about the need for humans to do a much better job of taking care of the Earth by preventing pollution of our air and water.

As I watched these beautiful and talented children sing songs imploring the grown-up stewards of their future to bequeath them a livable planet, I was haunted by the devastating reality of the world they will inherit from us.

In the last four months, pollution levels in China have climbed to levels never before recorded in the history of our planet. More than 1.2 million Chinese per year are dying early due to pollution while birth defects soar. Education officials in the most polluted regions of China have moved beyond educational programs to try to change adult behavior that robs children of the possibility of a healthy life in their own country.

Affluent parents are buying expensive air filters to try to give their children some semblance of a normal life. Schools in the wealthier districts are also installing sophisticated air filtration equipment even as some parents recognize that it won’t be enough to protect their children, so they dream of leaving the country altogether. For the vast majority of Chinese, who have no means of escaping the pollution, athletic fields covered with giant domes might at least allow kids to play soccer or just run and play tag without their lungs burning and filling with high concentrations of particulate matter that cause cancer

As I journeyed across six provinces of China with Waterkeeper Alliance’s Asia Regional Coordinator Charles Depman earlier this year and met with our Waterkeepers in Hangzhou, Lanzhou, Hefei, Beijing, Dalian and Xiangyang City, we went to cancer villages, investigated pollution and interviewed people about increasing levels of death and disease. The people we talked to moved us deeply.

The basic human right to clean air and water is universal. In order to achieve it in China, a grassroots movement is emerging. It may surprise people outside of China to learn that a people-powered revolution is possible there. And while it isn’t as raucous and rowdy as some civil society shifts in other countries, there are inspiring Chinese success stories to use as a road map.

For example, the people of Qiugang village worked with Green Anhui, the parent organization of the Middle Huai Waterkeeper, to end the pollution from a nearby chemical factory. Documentary filmmaker Ruby Yang captured the story in the academy-award-nominated documentary Warriors of Qiugang. The film poignantly illustrates the courage it took for Chinese villagers to stand in defiance against the status quo. They had a deep desire to see the next generation given the chance of a bright future, and when it was threatened by the deadly effects of pollution it motivated them to risk speaking out and seek the changes they needed.

After helping clean up and stop the devastating pollution in the cancer village of Qiugang, Green Anhui and the Middle Huai Waterkeeper established multiple water-testing locations across Anhui Province including this one to identify and address sources of water pollution. Photo credit: Donna Lisenby

The Middle Huai Waterkeeper and lawyers at Green Anhui work with citizens and government to solve pollution problems throughout the watershed. So while China’s pollution problems have never been worse, the good news is that a growing number of people are rolling up their sleeves and working together to fight the sources of sickness and disease.

Hundreds of miles away, in Zhejiang Province, the Qiantang Waterkeeper has established an award-winning web-based pollution reporting system that allows mobile phone users to take a picture of water pollution and report its exact location to the Waterkeeper. While I was in China, I got to see how effective that system is at triggering a response. 

A plume of ink-black polluted water mixes with the less polluted water of the Xian Feng canal in the Wuli cancer village. Photo Credit: Charles Depman

The polluted water in the photo above comes from coal-fired power plants, cement factories, chemical manufacturers and textile mills, all concentrated in a five kilometer area near Hangzhou, China. By the time the Xian Feng canal empties into the Qiantang River, it is pure black. Villagers report cancer and other diseases are common in almost every family. After we concluded our investigation, the Qiantang River Waterkeeper began creating a long-term plan to clean up the pollution that involves citizens engaging the government to make changes.

Across the country to the west, in arid, water-starved Gansu Province, we accompanied our Upper Yellow River Waterkeeper team to coal-fired power plants and coal mines across the region. We tested air for particulate matter greater than 2.5 micrometers and water for several pollutants.

Upper Yellow River Waterkeeper staff members test PM 2.5 levels at a coal-fired power plant in Langzhou, China. Photo Credit: Donna Lisenby

Air pollutants from coal-fired power plants contain a toxic collection of heavy metals that cause brain and respiratory damage. They include arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, selenium, manganese and particulate matter 2.5. They are one of the largest contributors to China’s staggering pollution problems.

In the U.S. there are currently about 600 coal-fired power plants. Many of them have been required to install air-pollution-control technology or shut down in an effort to clean up the vast amounts of air and water pollution they produce. In contrast, China has 3,000 coal-fired power plants either built or planned. Most of them do not have technology that eliminates air and water pollutants.

At a multi-family residential complex adjacent to a coal-fired power plant in Lanzhou, China. Like the lungs of the families who live in the area, the car was coated with coal ash. Photo credit: Charles Depman

While I was in China last month I joined Kristen McDonald and Zhao Zhong of Pacific Environment for meetings with Nautral Resources Defense Council-China, Greenpeace East Asia and Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. In each of those meetings we discussed strategies to strengthen and build the burgeoning grassroots environmental movement to confront coal pollution in China. In one of those meetings I met Sun Qingwei. A former assistant professor in the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Dr. Sun grew up in a coal miner’s family. He left academia, where he could have enjoyed the security of a university career, to have the freedom to tell the truth about the devastating human toll of coal pollution in China. He has been the lead coal campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia since 2011.

Over the last two years, he has worked to expose the environmental and human health risks of coal mining and use. Growing up in a coal-mining region himself, he has first-hand knowledge of the toll it is taking on communities in his country. His stories provide a stunning and sad portrait of the enormity of the challenge of shifting away from coal consumption in the country that mines and consumes more coal than any other. Waterkeeper Alliance, Pacific Environment, San Francisco Baykeeper, Sierra Club and Wilson Center will host an educational forum with Sun Qingwei in San Francisco on May 7. Join us to hear his powerful stories, see his pictures and learn about these issues facing the people of China.

Pacific Environment, Waterkeeper Alliance and our partners across China are committed to building a successful grassroots movement that will shift China away from coal use towards a more sustainable energy mix. Together we can save China’s beautiful children from a poisoned future.