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Solar CEO Says Threat to Utilities Greatly Exaggerated

The solar industry’s threat to utilities has been greatly exaggerated, and the power industry needs traditional generators to keep the lights on in the U.S.

That’s the view of Arno Harris, chief executive officer of Recurrent Energy, the U.S. solar developer unit of the Japanese electronics maker Sharp Corp.

His remarks contrast with views from NRG Energy Inc. Chief Executive Officer David Crane and SolarCity Corp.’s Lyndon Rive, who are challenging the business model of utilities and cutting in on their monopoly in managing power distribution. Harris said the solar industry must fit in with utilities.

“You can’t just take on the utilities and destroy them,” Harris said in an interview at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in New York today. “To get to any significant solar penetration, we’ll need more and better utility services.”

The U.S. power industry raised concerns about the threat solar rooftops pose to their business model more than a year ago. Since then, at least a dozen states from Arizona to North Carolina have debated changing regulations or laws to slow solar development and protect utilities from competition.

That’s given utility executives a wake-up call and also encouraged them to respond to customer needs, Harris said.

“Now they’re ready to have that conversation about how to integrate more solar,” said Harris, who’s also chairman of the Solar Energy Industry Association in Washington. “It’s inevitable that solar will become a bigger part of the energy mix and we need the utilities to help manage the grid as it does.”

(Corrects description of Recurrent in second paragraph of story published April 8.)

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