Local solar industry installers and advocates are charging that a conspiracy by the big utility companies to stamp out the rising power of alternative energy is behind a recent decision by CPS Energy to cut the amount the utility pays homeowners for what is called 'distributed power,' the power generated by rooftop solar cells which is pumped back into the power grid.
"It's part of a national campaign by utilities against distributed generation solar, coming out of the Edison Electric Institute," said Lanny Sinkin, President of Solar San Antonio and a leading advocate for alternative energy in Texas.
The Edison Electric Institute is the trade association of shareholder-owned electric utility companies. CPS Energy is not a shareholder owned company, it is owned by the City of San Antonio.
"They are upset about people leaving traditional utilities and going to renewables," Sinkin said.
He distributed literature to solar installers who gathered to plan their next step in the wake of the CPS Energy decision to cut payments. The literature claimed that there is an active campaign underway to 'suppress' the solar industry. The reason, he said, is that solar energy equipment is getting too cheap and alternative power is becoming too widespread that alternative energy could 'destroy the utility industry.
CPS Energy Vice President Lisa Lewis called Sinkin's comments 'hyperbole.'
"There would be few people who would dispute that CPS Energy is a big supporter of solar energy, where it makes sense," she said.
She says even under the new plan, CPS Energy is still paying a 'generous rebate' to solar power generators.
"They will be reimbursed for the energy they generate at a rate of between 5 and 6 cents per kilowatt hour," she said. "The cost for the energy that they are purchasing is between 9 and 10 cents per kilowatt hour."
She said customers who currently are using solar energy will be 'grandfathered' in, and the new rate will affect only new customers.
Sinkin said that has resulted in contracts being 'cancelled.' He says unless this new system is changed, the move to alternative fuels, which Mayor Castro and other officials have championed, will sputter.
Lewis says the new payment structure takes into consideration the costs of using the expensive CPS Energy system of wires and transformers, something that the old system did not.
"In the current model, they aren't paying for their fair share of that infrastructure," she said. "When they come off and are not paying, those of us who are not generating solar energy are covering their costs, that's poles, wires, substations and all of those things."
She said solar energy customers still need to be on the grid when solar energy systems are not working due to clouds.
"It is impractical for them to not pay for any component of the grid because they do rely on it," she said.