Whitesburg KY

Bill on solar panels could hurt our area

Rep. Angie Hatton

Rep. Angie Hatton

There are numerous bills considered each legislative session, but most annual meetings of the General Assembly are often remembered for just one or two key laws.

For example, 2018’s session was dominated by the public-pension bill and the thousands of people who rallied against it. Other sessions in recent years are recalled for far-reaching legislation that addressed the opioid epidemic and reformed our schools and criminal-justice systems.

On Friday last week, the House voted for a bill that, at least in our region, also has the potential to be remembered for quite some time — and not in a good way.

The Senate legislation is referred to as the net-metering bill, but more broadly, it is about stopping the growing solar industry before it can really take off here in the commonwealth. If this becomes law — its fate now depends on whether the House and Senate can reach a compromise — this could reduce needed jobs while also limiting an important option some are using locally to counter high electricity rates.

Previous attempts to pass similar bills have failed during the last two years, but there’s a good chance the concept makes it to the governor’s desk by this spring. While the version to the pass the House on Friday is better than past efforts, it is still not something I can support. I believe we need a fairer approach.

Overall, there are about 1,000 small-scale customers in Kentucky that have solar panels. When they produce more electricity than they need, the excess is put back onto the grid and the panel’s owners earn credits to lower their overall electric bills. These net-metering credits are what make the panels affordable, but if the credits are reduced, then fewer people will have incentive to buy a solar system.

We’re seeing the value of these panels across eastern Kentucky, especially in the House district I represent. Solar is part of the “all of the above” approach I think we must have when it comes to supplying the country’s energy needs. I am worried, though, that we are about to undercut this industry and the rewards it is already bringing.

While there was considerable debate on that bill, there was a moment last week that brought both sides of the aisle together: The creation of a legislative caucus that will focus on issues designed to help those with disabilities.

There are about 900,000 Kentuckians who are part of this group. We have come a long way in helping them meet their full potential, but there is more work still to be done.

The Engage & Empower Caucus, as it is called, is co-chaired by two House colleagues of mine who have a disability. One lost his arm many years ago in a workplace accident, while the other has cerebral palsy. Their guidance, plus the contributions from advocates for the disabled, will make the state an even better place in which to live, learn and work. I look forward to supporting this caucus’ efforts to make these positive changes possible.

Although the General Assembly does not enact a state budget in odd-numbered years, legislators do monitor state finances in case we need to make changes. Fortunately, that doesn’t appear necessary this legislative session, based on a report early last week from budget officials, but revenues are still down somewhat seven months into the fiscal year.

If a budget correction is unlikely, legislators are still expected to make a tax change this year, which in this case would correct 2018’s error that forced non-profit organizations to pay more taxes. I opposed last year’s tax overhaul, which raised costs for 95 percent of families, but there is broad consensus that we need to fix this issue. The current situation is not fair for organizations like churches and others that do so much to help our communities.

Odd-year sessions almost seem like they’re over before they get started. We may have relatively little time left, but the next few weeks will be the busiest of the year as we decide which bills should become the state’s newest laws.

I want to thank everyone who has contacted me so far and visited our state Capitol. I’ve heard from many and expect to hear from many more before the session is complete.

If you would like to let me know your views, you can email me at Angie.Hatton@ lrc.ky.gov, or leave a message for me at 1-800- 372-7181. For those who have a hearing impairment, the number is 1-800-896- 0305. These toll-free numbers are answered during normal business hours each weekday.

If you would like to read bills or check on committee meeting times, the General Assembly’s website has that and much more information. It can be found online at www.legislature.ky.gov.

I hope to hear from you soon.

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