The most frustrating thing about rising fuel prices is that we are powerless to do anything about them, at least in the short term. We know potential solutions exist, but they always seem to be blocked by those who have an interest in keeping us dependent on gasoline. So we have no choice but to pay whatever they charge.

A similar dynamic affects what we pay for basic electricity. In North Little Rock, for example, electric rates jumped an average of 38 percent this month, and, as with the price of gas, there is very little anyone can do about it. City residents are at the mercy of the utility, and even a frugal, responsible consumer can only do so much to keep the bills down.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Arkansas already has laws in place to empower homeowners, farmers and businesses with incentives to reduce electricity demand and share excess supply. All of us could generate energy, sell it back to the grid and achieve an equal footing with the powerful utilities.

Of course, the utilities don’t want that to happen, which is why they have worked hard to prevent it.

The concept is simple. It’s known as net metering, and it is derived from the little-known fact that your electric meter can operate in two different directions.

We’re used to seeing our meters turn as we take electricity from our local grids. But the meters would spin in the opposite direction if we created more energy than we used, sending it back to the grid for others to consume.

You could put solar panels or wind turbines on your roof or in your fields, for instance. If you’re using a lot of electricity on a particular day, those systems might offset the power you are taking from the grid, reducing your utility bill.

Better yet, when your electricity consumption is low, the excess energy you create could go directly to the grid, turning your meter backwards and saving you lots of money — possibly earning you a net profit.

That’s a real-world market incentive to encourage all of us to invest in renewable energy systems and conserve electricity.

Imagine sitting in your office on a sunny winter day, knowing your lights and air conditioning at home are off, and your solar panels are turning your electric meter backwards.

However, if you did that here today, you wouldn’t receive any financial benefit, because the utility is entitled to take the surplus energy you generate — and sell it themselves.

Almost six years ago, Arkansas adopted a law requiring the state’s utilities to offer net metering for solar, wind, hydrothermal, geothermal and biomass systems. But according to a Nov. 2006 report by the Network for New Energy Choices, “In an effort to appease utility concerns that net metering represents a subsidy to participating customers, Arkansas’s commission allowed the state’s utilities to seize (without compensation) any excess electricity generated by customers at the end of every month. Denied fair compensation for excess electricity, only three Arkansas customers have enrolled in the state’s program since it was initiated in 2001.”

Well, sure. If you remove the incentive — the whole point of the program — who is going to participate?

The counter-intuitive nature of Arkansas’s program earned it an “F” in the report, along with special attention in a chapter entitled “Worst practices,” which noted, “The Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) failed to establish effective net metering programs largely because of undue deference given to utilities during the rulemaking process. … APSC’s decision to give utilities net excess generation at the end of each month … can be traced to utility concerns about cross subsidy issues and fears of lost revenue.”

Shouldn’t the Public Service Commission be more concerned about consumers’ lost revenue, like the extra 38 percent North Little Rock ratepayers are coughing up?

Last week, Gov. Mike Beebe followed through on a campaign promise to propose phasing out the sales tax on utilities for manufacturers. But those manufacturers might appreciate net metering even more if it meant they could reduce electricity costs or even turn a profit on energy generated on their substantial properties.

At least net metering would offer businesses, farmers and homeowners a responsible response to increasing energy costs. In states where more functional net metering programs were adopted — especially when accompanied by rebates and tax incentives for renewable energy investments — the numbers of net metering customers and solar panel systems have increased dramatically.

Competition, after all, is the key to keeping the utilities honest and efficiently determining the true, free-market value of the electricity we consume.

As with the cost of gasoline, we don’t have to be at the mercy of the monopolistic energy providers. We only have to overcome their selfish perversion of the political system, which blocks the most logical solutions and deprives us of our independence.


Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • Question raised on Dallas Cowboy gift to NLR cops

    Blogger Russ Racop raises an interesting question, as he sometimes does, about Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' gift of free tickets for North Little Rock cops to attend a Dallas Cowboy football game.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • Backers of struck marijuana act urge vote for surviving amendment

    Backers of Issue 7, the medial marijuana initiated act that the Arkansas Supreme Court today ruled hadn't qualified for the ballot, have issued a statement urging backers to vote for the surviving medical marijuana amendment, Issue 6.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • Group calls for independent review of police shooting

    Arkansas Stop the Violence, a grassroots group focused on stemming violence, particularly in black neighborhoods, issued a statement today calling for an "independent" investigation of the police fatal shooting Tuesday night of Roy Lee Richards.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • More »

More by Warwick Sabin

  • Helena's disappearing buildings

    Preservationists hope to slow demolitions.
    • Mar 22, 2007
  • Trailers headed to Dumas

    Gov. Mike Beebe issued the following statement earlier today: Although this decision by FEMA to deny emergency funds to Desha County defies common sense, Arkansas will take care of its own people.
    • Mar 9, 2007
  • Youth Ranch robbed, vandalized

    According to a press release we just received: The Donald W. Reynolds Campus of the Arkansas Sheriff’s Youth Ranches (The Ranch) located near Fort Smith was vandalized overnight Thursday.  Items stolen during the break-in included all of the children’s saddles, food, tools and supplies from The Ranch’s carpentry shop and all equipment from its auto shop.  An investigation is underway with the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office.
    • Mar 9, 2007
  • More »

Most Shared

  • Issue 3: blank check

    Who could object to a constitutional amendment "concerning job creation, job expansion and economic development," which is the condensed title for Issue 3 for Arkansas voters on Nov. 8?
  • Little Rock police kill man downtown

    Little Rock police responding to a disturbance call near Eighth and Sherman Streets about 12:40 a.m. killed a man with a long gun, Police Chief Kenton Buckner said in an early morning meeting with reporters.
  • From the mind of Sol LeWitt: Crystal Bridges 'Loopy Doopy': A correction

    Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is installing Sol Lewitt's 70-foot eye-crosser "Wall Drawing 880: Loopy Doopy," waves of complementary orange and green, on the outside of the Twentieth Century Gallery bridge. You can glimpse painters working on it from Eleven, the museum's restaurant, museum spokeswoman Beth Bobbitt said
  • Ted Suhl loses another bid for new trial; faces stiff sentencing recommendation

    Ted Suhl, the former operator of residential and out-patient mental health services, has lost a second bid to get a new trial on his conviction for paying bribes to influence state Human Services Department policies. Set for sentencing Thursday, Suhl faces a government request for a sentence up to almost 20 years. He argues for no more than 33 months.
  • Football and foster kids

    It took a football stadium to lay bare Republican budget hypocrisy in Arkansas.

Latest in Warwick Sabin

  • Trickle-up theory

    Through thick and thin, there has always been one group of dedicated Americans whose support for President George W. Bush has been unwavering: The wealthy.
    • Mar 8, 2007
  • Time to go

    Tough questions face us in Iraq and it's time to confront them directly.
    • Mar 1, 2007
  • Plugged in

    One reason why the South remained solidly Democratic during the mid-20th century was the enduring gratitude to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who brought electricity to the poor, rural parts of the region. According to one historical account, “Althou
    • Feb 22, 2007
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Jodi Morris's lifelong ties to the National Park Service

Jodi Morris's lifelong ties to the National Park Service

"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Issue 3: blank check

    Who could object to a constitutional amendment "concerning job creation, job expansion and economic development," which is the condensed title for Issue 3 for Arkansas voters on Nov. 8?
  • The politics of opportunity

    Are you sick of the election yet? One thing that seems certain is that our politics remain as hyperpartisan and dysfunctional as ever. I may be naive, but I think Arkansas has an opportunity to help lead the country back toward pragmatic progress on the issues that will make our families and communities stronger.
  • Football and foster kids

    It took a football stadium to lay bare Republican budget hypocrisy in Arkansas.
  • The end is near

    Practically speaking, it doesn't really matter if Donald Trump accepts the results of the November election.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: The politics of opportunity

    • Great article. I also believe we can do better, and long for the day when…

    • on October 27, 2016
  • Re: The big loser

    • Investigator, you are none of those things, but simply a serial ranter. At this you…

    • on October 26, 2016
  • Re: The big loser

    • If they really wanted to knockout the Clinton's, they would have done so with guilty…

    • on October 26, 2016

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation