The debate over net metering and rooftop solar incentives is intensifying. For many years, rooftop solar owners were rewarded with incentives and the credit from selling the excess energy they generate from their panels back to their local utility (net metering), making their utility bills almost equal to zero most billing cycles. Regulators are now proposing to reduce the prices of that export energy and charge solar owners a monthly fee to have them equally pay for the operational and maintenance costs of the grid as other users who do not own solar panels. Proponents of this new proposition are using the equity argument. Low and middle income families have borne the brunt of keeping the grid operating with their hefty monthly utility bills. On the other hand, people who have made big investments into their solar panels feel that the rug is being pulled from underneath them and that the new rules are not fair and will significantly extend the time it takes to see a return on their investments. Solar panel companies are concerned about losing business, and solar and green energy advocates are arguing this will put all the sustainability momentum to a halt. Many people also feel that this is a scheme by utility companies to increase their profits and don’t trust that utilities have the interest of lower to middle income households in mind.

How does the public generally view those proposed reforms to rooftop solar incentives? Are they opposed to reforms altogether? Is the opposition to reforms driven by the mistrust of utilities? Current programs are designed where low to middle income households are paying expensive utility bills that are funding the operational costs of our utilities, whereas rooftop solar owners who are mostly higher income households are barely contributing to those costs. Ethically speaking, is this fair?

The data analyzed below is a sample (n=500) collected from the states that offer solar rebates and incentives according to Those states are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

While incentives and rebates are offered in those states from which our data is collected, a little less than a third of homeowners have rooftop solar and a very small portion of those are non-homeowners.


On the other hand, 36% of respondents think that current incentive programs should change but only partially and gradually, whereas 17% think that current incentive programs should be completely reevaluated and redesigned.


Generally speaking, homeowners are the ones that can afford to have rooftop solar, as they have the option to install them and financially gain from doing so. Therefore, it would be safe to assume that homeowners would want to keep incentive programs as they are in their states. Yet, the majority of those who believe that solar incentive programs should change are homeowners. This could be attributed to the fact that the majority of the survey respondents are homeowners. Or it could be because of low net metering rates or tax rebates in certain states compared to others. Nevertheless, our survey results show a strong desire to change incentive programs to be more inclusive to those with less access to rooftop solar.


Additionally, the majority of those who agree with the proposed reforms in their local jurisdictions are homeowners.


Nonetheless, the top driver for people to install rooftop solar panels in their homes are the financial incentives and savings on their utility bill.


Regulators as well as utilities are the central focus of the debate about incentive reforms. One of the questions raised by the debate is the trust in utilities to do what it takes to reach decarbonization objectives and whether they are serving the best interests of their customers in the process. The majority of respondents trust their utility on serving the interests of it customers while working toward their decarbonization objectives.

Although the discussion regarding rooftop solar incentive reforms is mostly in California and about the regulations in California, it was important to capture the overall views and sentiments on the matter in other states that offer their residents rooftop solar incentives.

The survey results show that despite how successful those incentive programs have been in encouraging people to install solar panels in their homes, still only about 30% have rooftop solar panels. 27% of those are homeowners. And since the majority, about 61%, either agree or strongly agree with the proposed reforms to those incentive programs there are also somewhat strong sentiments regarding changes to those programs, as a lot of people (36%) are in favor of making partial and gradual changes. What is interesting about those sentiments is that about 75% of respondents believe that incentive programs should provide more support to those with less access to rooftop solar. Because so far the solar industry and incentive programs have targeted those with high income, good credit scores, and homeowners. On the other hand, there are about 55% who believe that only those who invested in rooftop solar should be rewarded for their investments.

The survey results show that people trust their utility and believe they are doing their parts to reach decarbonization goals. This is significant. And utilities and regulators should be continuing to build that trust and to encourage and support people to choose clean energy sources for their homes and to adjust those regulations and programs to be more inclusive to low and middle income families, renters, unbanked people, etc. After all, the top incentive for installing rooftop solar panels according to our respondents is the incentives and the savings on their power bills (49%).