Delta Solar CEO Doug Hutchings and the Power of the Free Market

Delta Solar CEO Doug Hutchings and the Power of the Free Market
Doug Hutchings (Beth Hall)

Delta Solar CEO Doug Hutchings was musing to Whispers the other day that it’s strange when something makes perfect sense to you but you can’t make somebody else see it.

“I think Bob Iger said it best: ‘You can’t allow tradition to get in the way of innovation. There’s a need to respect the past, but it’s a mistake to revere your past.’” Hutchings quoted the Disney CEO after a bruising battle over Arkansas’ net-metering policy that ended up not going his way.

Hutchings said lawmakers have the idea that Arkansans with solar power generators are selling power to the utilities at retail prices when the utilities could be getting that power cheaper.

“There is currently no sale of power to the utility,” so it’s a misconception, Hutchings said. Solar customers actually get a credit against their electric bills for the excess energy they contribute to the grid.

“The closest equivalent is an interest-free loan from the customer to the utility,” he said. “Usually the loan is for a short period of time [day to night], but with agricultural customers it can be weeks to months. The benefit has always accrued to the utility.”

Hutchings said utility goals could be met directly, without upending solar development. If solar customers are shifting some costs of service to others, utilities should adjust their rates to ensure they are compensated, he says. If utilities fear inequitable access to solar power, they could allow community solar projects and fractional ownership.

Utilities could offer rapid siting of arrays to put them where they add the most value to the utility, he said. If utilities are “extra super worried about cost shifting,” they could base the value of solar “on the real-time value of the power.” The free market, he said, is a powerful thing.

“Historically, trying to position yourself against innovation is a long-term losing strategy even if you notch up some wins and slow it down in the short term,” Hutchings concluded.

More On This Story