With solar panels becoming more affordable to consumers, you may be considering equipping your home with solar power. But for Texans who can choose their electric provider (e.g. Houston and Dallas, not Austin and San Antonio), the different plans from energy providers charging different rates with unique buyback plans can be confusing. As a prospective solar citizen, which electric company offers the best deal?
To help consumers decide which plan is best, Texas Power Guide has developed a free to download Time-of-Use Calculator that works using Microsoft Excel. By entering your local utility provider (e.g. Oncor or CenterPoint) and electricity usage data, this calculator outputs would-be costs and rebates from Texas energy companies like Reliant, TXU, and Chariot among others. Costs and rebates are broken down in a month-by-month format so that you can easily compare what sort of discounts you could get from your home’s solar energy production. You can also compare your home’s data to statewide averages in order to see where you stand compared to your fellow Texans.
When a home has solar panels installed, often times the panels will produce more power than the house consumes in any given day. This is because power usage tends to fluctuate between seasons, and some days you simply use less energy than others. The excess power produced by solar panels is released back through the electric meter of your home so that it can power your neighbors’ homes as well. In Texas, net metering is not lawfully required to be provided to customers, but because of a competitive energy market there are a number of buy-back plans available to customers.
With some buyback plans, certain months of the year have higher payouts to customers compared to others. So, in order to maximize rebates, some solar users invest in large batteries that store excess solar energy instead of releasing it immediately into the grid. It is commonplace for solar users to store excess power in batteries for later use where buyback and net metering are not available, but with buyback, this stored energy can then be released back through the power meter at peak rebate points in the year, maximizing payouts and increasing users’ return on investment in solar much faster.Net metering and buyback programs are massive incentives for individuals who are considering switching to solar energy. Not only are energy bills cheaper with solar, but programs such as these mean that solar users see a real return on their investment in clean energy, as their solar panels bring in some money. However, recently the New England Ratepayers Association (NERA), an interest group based out of New Hampshire, has filed a petition calling for making net metering illegal in all states. Action confirming the demands of this petition would limit the benefits of solar energy, and could deter many from investing in solar panels for their home or business.
Solar power is one of the cleanest forms of energy production available, and it is becoming increasingly more accessible to citizens across Texas. The wide-open skies and comparatively high levels of sunlight of our state make for an ideal environment for solar panel use. The Sun is a power plant of unthinkable size that continuously radiates immense amounts of clean energy to the surface of our planet, and solar panels are the key to harnessing it for utility. Every solar panel in use lowers the amount of dirty, dangerous fossil fuels that continue to pollute our planet’s air and water. Not only are net metering and solar buyback plans smart when it comes to influencing energy consumers to invest in solar power for their homes, but it also allows for clean energy to be used by people that do not have solar arrays of their own, increasing the positive impact that solar energy can have on our communities. It is clear that clean energy alternatives such as solar are the right move for the future, and net metering and solar buyback plans are an important accelerant for our society to become one of less pollution and cleaner production.
Mac Phillips is an intern at Environment Texas and student at the University of Texas at Austin.