Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders must weigh in on net metering in Nevada

Winding Desert Highway in Nevada

The upcoming Nevada caucuses will be a grueling test for presidential hopefuls on both sides of the aisle, but especially for the Democratic contenders. Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders will have to grapple with numerous complex policy issues — including the state’s net metering rules for homeowners with rooftop solar systems — as they race neck-and-neck toward the nomination.

As our nation undergoes an energy renaissance with the advancement of new technology, updated infrastructure, and alternative energy sources, we must hold our lawmakers accountable for tackling problems in the energy sector with 21st century solutions. Pragmatic and equitable answers to energy issues will result in a more reliable, efficient and secure future for all, and not just a few.

We especially recognize this at the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC), where we represent 4.1 million Hispanic-owned businesses that together, contribute over $661 billion dollars to our American economy, every year. Our association advocates for an all-inclusive strategy utilizing all available sources of energy. However, we also understand the importance of sound business practices, and while we want our community to be energy efficient, we more importantly want our community to be informed.

To their credit, both Clinton and Sanders have a consistent track record of supporting the continued growth of solar energy not only as a source of clean energy, but as an industry that creates jobs. This is an especially important consideration in Nevada, which is still recovering from the effects of the home foreclosure crisis and the Great Recession.

Sanders in particular has made income inequality the focal point of his campaign, while Clinton has conducted substantial outreach to minority communities who, like all Americans, stand to gain from our nation’s continued economic growth. Both candidates support renewable sources of energy.

However, given their mutual support for low-income and minority communities, including Hispanics, it is puzzling to see Clinton and Sanders not address the real issue of outdated net metering policies. These old policies effectively cause the average American consumer to pay for the energy choices of wealthier individuals who own or lease rooftop solar systems.

Consider that the median white household had $111,146 in wealth holdings in 2011, compared to $8,348 for the median Hispanic household . Then consider that Nevada’s Democratic electorate is a better reflection of the changing face of America than either Iowa or New Hampshire, with demographics there mirroring national percentages with roughly 20% Hispanic and 13% African American voters. It’s impossible to discuss public policy in Nevada without considering the effect of income inequality on minority communities.

To put this in perspective, according to the George Washington University Solar Institute, out of the 645,000 homes and businesses with rooftop solar panels in America, less than five percent are in households earning less than $40,000. The high cost of solar panels is responsible for this discrepancy — solar panels cost $20,000 to purchase, and when leased, can only be obtained by consumers with pristine credit.

So what’s our advice to Clinton and Sanders? These candidates should acknowledge that if net metering is done the right way, it can continue to help grow the solar market without negatively impacting low-income and minority communities. These solar policies are affordable and equitable for all communities, not just the special few — and this stance is lock-step with both candidates’ platforms. Therefore, we strongly urge Clinton and Sanders to encourage states, including Nevada, to promote fair net metering policies prioritizing community choice and economic equality over the choices of wealthy investors.

As we all know, the winner of Nevada could gain momentum going into South Carolina and Super Tuesday. It’s time for the Democrats to take note of the special issues, like the debate on net metering, facing communities at the state and local level. All politics, as they say, is local.