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Gage Skidmore

By Jake Johnson

As U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief and reigning number one seed in the "worst Trump cabinet member" bracket Scott Pruitt attempts to beat back accusations that he violated ethics rules by renting a room from the wife of powerful energy lobbyist J. Steven Hart, the New York Times revealed late Monday that Pruitt approved a massive pipeline project supported by Hart's firm at the same time he had access to what critics argue was an unusually low-priced rental.

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The water utility at Ebeye, Marshall Islands, February 2012.. Erin Magee / DFAT / Flickr

By Whitney Webb

Since Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory—which rarely garners much attention from the national media—has received widespread coverage which has focused on the Trump administration's slow response to the disaster.

The situation in Puerto Rico is undoubtedly dire, as many struggle without power and access to basic necessities for more than a week after the storm struck. In addition, the Trump administration's response has been notably lackluster in several regards, which has brought renewed scrutiny to its attitudes and performance.

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PavloBaliukh / iStock / Getty Images

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.

U.S. Air Force

By Whitney Webb

Amid statewide efforts to clean up the aftermath left by the historic flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, the Pentagon announced last week that it had dispatched C-130H Sprayers from the Air Force Reserve's 910th Airlift Wing in order to "assist with recovery efforts in eastern Texas." However, these "recovery efforts" have little to do with rebuilding damaged structures or with the resettlement of evacuees. Instead, they are set to spray chemicals in order to help "control pest insect populations," which they allege pose a "health risk to rescue workers and residents of Houston."

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Mike Mozart / Flickr

The agrochemical and seed giant Monsanto, one of the world's most controversial corporations, is attempting to take down a World Health Organization (WHO) agency that in 2015 linked the Monsanto product glyphosate to an increased risk of cancer in humans. That year, the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found that the widely used herbicide is "probably carcinogenic to humans."

The decision was a major blow to Monsanto as its most popular product, Roundup, is glyphosate-based. Following the IARC's decision, the European Union began to consider banning the product altogether, potentially depriving Monsanto of a significant stream of revenue. Monsanto, which is seeking the EU's renewal of the chemical's license for the next 10 years, is now also fighting a high-profile court case attempting to bring IARC's 2015 decision—as well as the agency itself—under scrutiny.

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Ray Kemble of Dimock, Pa., displays a jug of what he identifies as his contaminated well water. (AP/Matt Rourke)

Ever since the dangerous consequences of natural gas extraction via hydraulic fracturing—popularly known as "fracking"—entered the national consciousness, the small town of Dimock, Pennsylvania has arguably been "ground zero" for water contamination caused by the controversial practice.

Now Cabot Oil & Gas, the massive energy company responsible for numerous fracking wells near Dimock, is suing one of the town's residents for $5 million, claiming that his efforts to "attract media attention" to the pollution of his water well have "harmed" the company. According to the lawsuit, Dimock resident Ray Kemble's actions breached an earlier 2012 settlement that was part of an ongoing federal class action lawsuit over the town's water quality. Kemble has stated that Cabot's fracking turned his groundwater "black, like mud, [with] a strong chemical odor."

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www.youtube.com

By Redacted Tonight

The "Oil to School" pipeline, the fossil-fuel industry's effort to pour pro-petrol propaganda into K-12 classrooms, is more widespread and pernicious than previously thought, a new investigation has shown.

Big oil can exploit the fact that schools are underfunded, and provide resources and then take the opportunity to write the resources which somehow manage to omit the dangers of climate change and pollution.

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Michael Toledano

Thirteen Louisiana residents who live in the shadow of one of the most toxic factories in the country recently filed a lawsuit against the facility's co-owners, DuPont and Denka, in an attempt to stop or reduce the production of an air pollutant linked to serious health problems, including cancer.

The plaintiffs are currently seeking approval from a local judge to file a class action lawsuit that would allow anyone who has lived, worked or attended school within a defined boundary around the plant over the past five years to take legal action against the plant's owners.

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Transparent GMU / Facebook

By Brandi Buchman

Accusing the state school of violating public records law, a group of George Mason University students and alumni brought a lawsuit to shed light on the support it gets from billionaire energy tycoons Charles and David Koch.

Augustus Thomson, a current undergraduate, filed the complaint on May 26 with the student-led group Transparent GMU, saying they have been waiting nearly two months for a response to their request for records on the school's contribution and gift records from 2008 to 2012.

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Abandoned Air Force Base in Greenland. Ken Bower

By Whitney Webb

Last week, mainstream media outlets gave minimal attention to the news that the U.S. Naval station in Virginia Beach had spilled an estimated 94,000 gallons of jet fuel into a nearby waterway, less than a mile from the Atlantic Ocean.

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John Bowler, RSPB Tiree

By Carey Wedler

The Guardian reported last Tuesday that Lulu, the full-grown whale who died, "was a member of the UK's last resident pod and a postmortem also showed she had never produced a calf. The pollutants, called PCBs, are known to cause infertility and these latest findings add to strong evidence that the pod is doomed to extinction."

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No one person encapsulates the enduring legacy of the "robber barons" of the Industrial Age quite like David Rockefeller. Rockefeller, who died Monday at the age of 101, was the last surviving grandson of John D. Rockefeller, the oil tycoon who became America's first billionaire and the patriarch of what would become one of the most powerful and wealthiest families in American history. David Rockefeller, an undeniable product of American nobility, lived his entire life in the echelons of U.S. society, becoming symbolic of the elite who often direct public policy to a much greater extent than many realize, albeit often from the shadows.

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Photo credit: Greg Webb / International Atomic Energy Agency

By Whitney Webb

While media attention has largely drifted away from the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in the years since the disaster, a recent and disturbing development has once again made Fukushima difficult if not impossible to ignore.

On Feb. 2, Tokyo Electric Power Company or TEPCO, quietly released a statement regarding the discovery of a hole measuring 2 meters in diameter within the metal grating at the bottom of the containment vessel in the plant's No. 2 reactor.

Though news of this hole is indeed concerning, even more shocking was the associated jump in radiation detected in the area. According to estimates taken at the time of the hole's discovery, radiation inside the reactor was found to have reached 530 sieverts per hour, a massive increase compared to the 73 sieverts per hour recorded after the disaster. To put these figures in perspective, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's maximum amount of radiation exposure permitted for astronauts over their entire lifetime is 1 sievert.

Human exposure to 5 sieverts would kill half of those exposed within a month, while 10 sieverts would prove fatal to nearly all exposed within a matter of weeks. An official with Japan's National Institute of Radiological Sciences told the Japan Times that medical professionals with the organization had never even considered working with such high levels of radiation.

A nearly 1-square-meter hole is seen in a walkway in the containment vessel of the No. 2 reactor at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. It is thought that the heat of the melted nuclear fuel caused the walkway to give way.TEPCO

TEPCO initially tried to counter public fears by stating that most of the reactor's nuclear fuel remained in the containment vessel despite the hole. However, on Feb. 3, TEPCO spokesman Yuichi Okamura was quoted as saying that "it's highly possible that melted fuel leaked through." At the time, TEPCO said that it would send a robot into the area to survey the full extent of the damage in order to definitively determine whether fuel had leaked outside of the reactor into the surrounding environment.

The first robot, deployed on Feb. 16, was unable to conduct any meaningful measurements, as the extreme conditions within the reactor forced operators to abandon it within the containment vessel. The "scorpion" robot, manufactured by Toshiba, was meant to record images of the reactor's interior and collect accurate—instead of estimated—data on the levels of radiation within. Within three hours of deployment, the device stopped responding to operators despite its stated ability to withstand high levels of radiation. TEPCO has not commented on its new plans to gauge the damage recently uncovered in the reactor in the wake of the robot's malfunction.

When a second robot was sent to investigate, it also failed.

One of the World's Worst Nuclear Disasters Grows Even worse

Despite a lack of widespread media coverage and TEPCO's reassurances that things are under control, there is concern that the nuclear disaster at Fukushima—already one of the worst nuclear disasters in human history—is quickly growing even worse.

PBS News reported last year that more than 80 percent of of the radioactivity from the three damaged reactors was released into the Pacific Ocean, as 300 tons of radioactive water have leaked from the reactors every day since an earthquake and subsequent tsunami crippled the plant in 2011.

The Pacific Ocean may have diluted much of the radiation, due to its massive volume, yet radiation and debris from the disaster has been detected along the western coast of Canada and the U.S. Traces of Fukushima radiation were first detected in early 2015, when trace amounts of cesium-134 and cesium-137 appeared in samples collected near Vancouver Island. Then, in December of last year, researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution detected seaborne cesium-134 along the Oregon coast.

Though no link between the presence of radiation has been officially established, fisheries along the entire western coast of North America have been collapsing. Last month, the U.S. secretary of commerce reported on the failure of nine salmon and crab fisheries in Alaska, California and Washington—all due to "unexpected" yet steep declines in fish populations.

While scientists and government authorities alike are "stumped" as to the cause, fish caught along the West Coast have showed high increases in the levels of cesium for years—as far back as 2014. Researchers have maintained that fish, however, are still "safe" to eat despite the fact that at least one group of doctors agrees that there is "no safe level of radionuclide exposure, whether from food, water or other sources, period."

The Japanese government, TEPCO and mainstream media continue to insist that this massive release of radiation into the environment has had no effect on human or environmental health. However, thyroid cancer rates have soared in Japan, with 131 children developing thyroid cancer in the six years since the disaster. That total is equivalent to about 600 thyroid cancer cases per million children, while the child thyroid cancer rate elsewhere is about one or two children per million per year.

Despite the marked increase in cancer rates, TEPCO and the Japanese government insist that Fukushima radiation is "unlikely" to result in a greater incidence of cancer cases. However, exposure to Iodine-131, the main radionuclide released into the air and water during the meltdown, is known to increase human risk of thyroid cancer and is the most clearly defined environmental factor associated with thyroid tumors, suggesting that a correlation between radiation and exposure likely exists.

This latest breach in one of the plant's damaged reactors as well as TEPCO's inability to even properly gauge the extent of the damage suggests that we have yet to see the full devastating potential of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Reposted with permission from our media associate MintPress News.